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Full text of "Boy life on the prairie"

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Boy Life on the Prairie 



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Boy T.ife on the 
Prairie 












By 

HAMLIN GARLAND 

Author of 

Main-Travelled Roads 

Rose of Dutcher's Coolly 

The Trail of the Goldseekers 

Prairie Folks, etc. 












Illustrated by 
E. W. DEMING 












New York 
The Macmillan Company 

London : Macmillan & Co., Ltd. 
1899 











Copyright, 1899, 
By HAMLIN GARLAND. 



Noriuood Press 

J. S. Gushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith 

Noriuood, Mass., U.S.A. 



PREFACE 

This book is the outgrowth of a series of articles 
begun as far back as 1887. It was my intention, at 
the time, to delineate the work and plans of a boy on a 
prairie farm from season to season, beginning with seed- 
ing and ending with threshing, and I wrote some six or 
eight chapters in conformity with this plan. It occurred 
to me then that twenty-seven was too young to begin 
to write reminiscences, and I put the book aside until 
such time as it might be seemly for me to say, " I 
remember." I was resting easy in this attitude when a 
friend startled me by saying, "Yes, that's right, put it 
oft' till you have forgotten all about it ! " 

There was enough disturbing force in this remark to 
set me at work. The life I intended to depict was 
passing. The machinery of that day is already gone. 
The methods of haying, harvesting, threshing, are quite 
changed, and the boys of my generation are already 
middle-aged men with poor memories ; therefore I have 
taken a slice out of the year 1 899 in order to put into 
shape my recollection of the life we led in northern 
Iowa thirty years ago. I trust the reader will permit 
my assumption of the airs of an old man for a single 
volume. 

V 



vi Preface 

At the same time let me sav, " Boy Life on the 
Prairie " is not an autobiography. It is not my inten- 
tion to present in Lincohi Steiuar't the details of my own 
life and character, though I lived substantially the life 
of the boys herein depicted. I have used Lincoln merely 
as a connecting life-thread to bind the chapters together. 
Ranee is the hero of the book, so far as any character 
can by courtesy be so called. 

I ploughed and sowed, bound grain on a station, herded 
cattle, speared fish, hunted prairie chickens, and killed 
rattlesnakes quite in the manner here set down, but I 
have been limited neither by the actualities of my own 
life, nor those of any other personality. All of the inci- 
dents happened neither to me nor to Rance^ but they 
were the experiences of other boys, and might have been 
mine. They are all typical of the time and place. 

In short, I have aimed to depict boy life, not boys ; 
the characterization is incidental. Lincoln and Ranee 
and Milton and Owen are to be taken as types rather 
than as individuals. The book is as faithful and as 
accurate as my memory and literary skill can make it. 
I hope it may prove sufficiently appealing to the men 
of my generation to enable them to relive with me the 
splendid days of the unbroken prairie-lands of northern 
Iowa. 



PROLOGUE 

The ancient minstrel when time befit 
And his song outran his laggard pen, 

Went forth on the mart and chanted it 
In the noisy street to the busy men, 

Who found full leisure to listen and long 

For the far-off land of the singer's song. 

Let me play minstrel, and chant the lines 

Which rise in my heart in praise of the plain ; 

I'll lead you where the wild-oat shines. 

And swift clouds dapple the wheat with rain. 

If you'll listen, you'll hear the songs of birds, 

And the shuddering roar of trampling herds. 

The brave brown lark from the russet sod 
Will pipe as clear as a cunning flute, 

Though sky and cloud are stern as God, 
And all things else are hot and mute — 

Though the gulls complain of the blazing air 

And the grass is brown and crisp as hair. 



CONTENTS 



Part I 



I. 


A Night Ride in a Prairie Schooner 




I 


II. 


The Fall's Ploughing 




8 


III. 


Winter Winds . 






20 


IV. 


The Great Blizzard . 






39 


V. 


The Coming of Spring 






. 48 


VI. 


Seeding .... 






63 


VII. 
VIII. 


Planting Corn . 
Snaring Gophers 






75 
85 


IX. 


Herding the Catde 






93 


X. 


The Wild Meadows . 






105 


XI. 


A Fourth of July Celebration 






135 


XII. 


Hired Men 






151 


XIII. 


Lincoln's First Stack . 






180 


XIV. 


The Old-fashioned Threshing 






194 


XV. 


Threshing in the Field 






2!0 


XVI. 


The Corn Husking . 






219 



Part II 

XVII. The Coming of the Circus 
XVIII. A Camping Trip 



231 

253 



Contents 



XIX. A Day in the Old-time Harvest Field 

XX. The Battle of the Bulls 

XXI. The Terror of the Rattlesnake 

XXII. Owen Rides at the County Fair . 

XXIII. A Chapter on Prairie Game 

XXIV. Visiting Schools 

XXV. A Momentous Wolf-hunt . 

XXVI. Lincoln goes away to School 



Page 
273 
296 
316 

352 
365 
389 
403 



Conch 



416 



BOY LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE 

CHAPTER I 

A NIGHT RIDE IN A PRAIRIE SCHOONER 

One afternoon in the autumn of 1868 Duncan 
Stewart, leading his little fleet of " prairie schooners," 
entered upon " The Big Prairie " of northern Iowa, 
and pushed resolutely on into the west. His four-horse 
canvas-covered wagon was followed by two other lighter 
vehicles, one of which was driven by his wife, and the 
other by a hired freighter. At the rear of all the wag- 
ons, and urging forward a dozen or sixteen cattle, trotted 
a gaunt youth and a small boy. 

The boy had tears upon his face, and was limping 
with a stone-bruise. He could hardly look over the 
wild oats, which tossed their gleaming bayonets in the 
wind, and when he dashed out into the blue joint and 
wild sunflowers, to bring the cattle into the road, he 
could be traced only by the ripple he made, like a trout 
in a pool. He was a small edition of his father. He 
wore the same color and check in his hickory shirt and his 
long pantaloons of blue denim, had suspenders precisely 
like those of the men. Indeed, he considered himself 
a man, notwithstanding the tear-stains on his brown 
cheeks. 



2 Boy Life on the Prairie 

It seemed a long time since leaving his nati\'e Wis- 
consin coolly behind, with only a momentary sadness, 
but now, after nearly a week of travel, it seemed his 
father must be leading them all to the edge of the world, 
and Lincoln was very sad and weary. 

"Company, halt ! " called the Captain. 

One by one the teams stopped, and the cattle began 
to feed (they were always ready to eat), and Mr. Stew- 
art, coming back where his wife sat, said cheerily : — 

" Well, Kate, here's the big prairie I told you of, and 
beyond that blue line of timber you see is Sun Prairie, 
and home." 

Adrs. Stewart did not smile. She was too weary, 
and the wailing of little Mary in her arms was dispirit- 
ing. 

" Come here, Lincoln," said Mr. Stewart. " Here 
we are, out of sight of the works of man. Not a house 
in sight — climb up here and see." 

Lincoln rustled along through the tall grass, and, 
clambering up the wagon wheel, stood silently beside 
his mother. Tired as he was, the scene made an indeli- 
ble impression on him. It was as though he had sud- 
denly been transported into another world, a world where 
time did not exist ; where snow never fell, and the grass 
waved forever under a cloudless sky. A great awe fell 
upon him as he looked, and he could not utter a word. 

At last Mr. Stewart cheerily called : " Attention, bat- 
talion ! We must reach Sun Prairie to-night. Forward^ 
march ! " 

Again the little wagon train took up its slow way 



A Night Ride in a Prairie Schooner 3 

through the tall ranks of the wild oats, and the drooping, 
flaming sunflowers. Slowly the sun sank. The crickets 
began to cry, the night-hawks whizzed and boomed, and 
long before the prairie was crossed the night had come. 

Being too tired to foot it any longer behind the crack- 
ing heels of the cows, Lincoln climbed into the wagon 
beside his little brother, who was already asleep, and, 
resting his head against his mother's knee, lay for a long 
time, listening to the chuck-chuckle of the wheels, watching 
the light go out of the sky, and counting the stars as 
they appeared. 

At last they entered the wood, which seemed a very 
threatening place indeed, and his alert ears caught every 
sound, — the hoot of owls, the quavering cry of coons, 
the twitter of night birds. But at last his weariness 
overcame him, and he dozed off, hearing the clank of 
the whippletrees, the creak of the horses' harness, the 
vibrant voice of his father, and the occasional cry of the 
hired hand, urgino- the cattle forward through the dark. 

He was roused once by the ripple of a stream, wherein 
the horses thrust their hot nozzles, he heard the grind of 
wheels on the pebbly bottom, and the wild shouts of the 
resolute men as they scrambled up the opposite bank, 
and entered once more the dark aisles of the forest. 
Here the road was smoother, and to the soft rumble of 
the wheels the boy slept. 

At last, deep in the night, so it seemed to Lincoln, 
his father shouted : " Wake up, everybody. We're 
almost home." Then, facing the darkness, he cried, in 
western fashion, " Hello ! the house ! " 



4 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Dazed and stupid, Lincoln stepped down the wheel 
to the ground, his legs numb with sleep. Owen fol- 
lowed, querulous as a sick puppy, and together they 
stood in the darkness, waiting further command. 

From a small frame house, near by, a man with a 
lantern appeared. 

" Hello ! " he said, yawning with sleep. " Is that 
you, Stewart ? I'd jest about give you up." 

While the men unhitched the teams, Stewart helped 
his wife and children to the house, where A4rs. Hutchinson, 
a tall, thin woman, with a pleasant smile, made them 
welcome. She helped Mrs. Stewart remove her things, 
and then set out some bread and milk for the boys, 
which they ate in silence, their heavy eyelids drooping. 

When Mr. Stewart came in, he said : " Now, Lin- 
coln, you and Will are to sleep in the other shack. 
Run right along, before you go to sleep. Owen will 
stay here." 

Without in the least knowing the why or wherefore, 
Lincoln set forth beside the hired man, out into the 
unknown. They walked rapidly for a long time, and, 
as his blood began to stir again, Lincoln awoke to the 
wonder and mystery of the hour. The strange grasses 
under his feet, the unknown stars over his head, the dim 
objects on the horizon, were all the fashioning of a mind 
in the world of dreams. His soul ached with the pas- 
sion of his remembered visions and his forebodings. 

At last they came to a small cabin on the banks of a 
deep ravine. Opening the door, the men lit a candle, 
and spread their burden of blankets on the floor. Lin- 



A Night Ride in a Prairie Schooner 5 

coin crept between them like a sleepy puppy, and in a 
few minutes this unknown actual world merged itself in 
the mystery of dreams. 

When he woke, the sun was shining, hot and red, 
through the open windows, and the men were smoking 
their pipes by the rough fence before the door. Lin- 
coln hurried out to see what kind of a world this was 
to which his night's journey had hurried him. It was, 
for the most part, a level land, covered with short grass 
intermixed with tall weeds, and with many purple and 
yellow flowers. A little way off, to the right, stood a 
small house, and about as far to the right was another, 
before which stood the wagons belonging to his father. 
Directly in front was a wide expanse of rolling prairie, 
cut by a deep ravine, while to the north, beyond the 
small farm which was fenced, a still wider region rolled 
away into unexplored and marvellous distance. Alto- 
gether it was a land to exalt a boy who had lived all his 
life in a thickly settled Wisconsin coolly, where the 
horizon line was high and small of circuit. 

In less than two hours the wagons were unloaded, the 
stove was set up in the kitchen, the family clock was 
ticking on its shelf, and the bureau set against the wall. 
It was amazino- to see how these familiar things and 
his mother's bustling presence changed the looks of the 
cabin. Little Mary was quite happy crawling about the 
floor, and Owen, who had explored the barn and found 
a lizard to play with, was entirely at home. Lincoln 
had climbed to the roof of the house, and was still try- 
ing to comprehend this mighty stretch of grasses. Sit- 



6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ting astride the roof board, he gazed away into the north- 
west, where no house broke the horizon Hne, wondering 
what lay beyond that high ridge. 

While seated thus, he heard a distant roar and tram- 
ple, and saw a cloud of dust rising along the fence which 
bounded the farm to the west. It was like the rush of 
a whirlwind, and, before he could call to his father, out 
on the smooth sod to the south burst a platoon of wild 
horses, led by a beautiful roan mare. The boy's heart 
leaped with excitement as the shaggy colts swept round 
to the east, racing like wolves at play. Their long 
tails and abundant manes streamed in the wind like 
banners, and their imperious bugling voiced their con- 
tempt for man. 

Lincoln clapped his hands with joy, and all of the 
family ran to the fence to enjoy the sight. A boy, 
splendidly mounted on a fleet roan, the mate of the 
leader, was riding at a slashing pace, with intent to 
turn the troop to the south. He was a superb rider, 
and the little Morgan strove gallantly without need of 
whip or spur. He laid out like a hare. He seemed 
to float like a hawk, skimming the weeds, and her rider 
sat him like one born to the saddle, erect and supple, and 
of little hindrance to the beast. 

On swept the herd, circling to the left, heading for 
the wild lands to the east. Gallantly strove the roan 
with his resolute rider, disdaining to be beaten by his 
own mate, his breath roaring like a furnace, his nostrils 
blown like trumpets, his hoofs pounding the resounding 
sod. 



A Night Ride in a Prairie Schooner 7 

All in vain ; even with the inside track he was no match 
for his wild, free mate. The herd drew ahead, and, 
plunging through a short lane, vanished over a big swell 
to the east, and their drumming rush died rapidly away 
into silence. 

This was a glorious introduction to the life of the 
prairies, and Lincoln's heart filled with boundless joy, 
and longing to know it — all of it, east, west, north, 
and south. He had no further wish to return to his 
coolly home. The horseman had become his ideal, the 
prairie his domain. 



CHAPTER II 



THE FALL S PLOUGHING 



Before he could get down from the roof the boy 
rider turned and rode up to the fence, and Lincoln 
went out to meet him. 

" Hello. Didn't ketch 'em, did ye ? " 

The rider smiled. " Lodrone made a good try." 

" Is that the name of your horse .? " 

" Yup. What's your name ? " 

" Lincoln Stewart. What's yours ? " 

" Ranee Knapp." 

" Where do you live ? " 

The boy pointed away to a big frame house which 
lifted over the tops of some small trees. " Right over 
there. Can you ride a horse ? " 

"You bet I can ! " said Lincoln. 

"Well, then, you come over and see me sometime." 

"All right; I will. You come see me." 

" All right," Ranee replied and dashed away. 

He was a fine-looking bov, and Lincoln and Owen 
liked him. He was about twelve years old and tall 
and slender, with brown eyes and light y^How hair. 
He sat high in his saddle like a man, and his manners 
were not at all boyish. It was plain he considered 

8 



The Fall's Ploughing 9 

himself very nearly grown up. Lincoln made him his 
boy hero at once. 

For a few days Lincoln and Owen had nothing to 
do but to keep the cattle from straying, and they 
seized the chance to become acquainted with the 
country round about. It burned deep into Lincoln's 
brain, this wide, sunny, windy country, — the sky was 
so big and the horizon line so low and so far away. 
The grasses and flowers were nearly all new to him. On 
the uplands the herbage was short and dry and the plants 
stiff and woody, but in the swales the wild oat shook 
its quivers of barbed and twisted arrows, and the 
crow's-foot, tall and willowy, bowed softly under the 
feet of the wind, while everywhere in the lowlands, as 
well as on the sedges, the bleaching white antlers of 
monstrous elk lay scattered to testify of the swarming 
millions of wild cattle which once fed there. 

To the south the settlement thickened, for in that 
direction lay the country town, but to the north and 
west the unclaimed prairie rolled, the feeding ground 
of the cattle, but the boys had little opportunity to 
explore that far. 

One day his father said : — 

" Well, Lincoln, I guess you'll have to run the 
plough-team this fall. I've got so much to do around 
the house, and we can't afford to hire." 

This seemed a very fine and manly commission, 
and the boy drove his team out into the field one 
morning with vast pride, there to crawl round and 
round his first " back furrow," which stretched from 
one side of the quarter section to another. 



lO Boy Life on the Prairie 

But the pride and elation did not last. The task 
soon became exceedingly tiresome and the field lonely. 
It meant moving toward and fro, hour after hour, with 
no one to talk to and nothing to break the monotony. 
It meant walking eight or nine miles in the forenoon 
and as many more in the afternoon, with less than 
an hour off at dinner. It meant care of the share, — 
holding it steadily and properly. It meant dragging 
the heavy implement around the corners, and it meant 
also manv mishaps where thick stubble or wild buck- 
wheat rolled up around the standard and threw the 
share completely out of the ground. 

Lincoln, although strong and active, was rather 
short, and to reach the plough handles he was obliged 
to lift his hands above his shoulders. He made, in- 
deed, a comical but rather pathetic figure, with the 
guiding lines crossed over his small back, plodding 
along the furrows, his worn straw hat bobbing just 
above the cross-brace. Nothing like him had been 
seen in the neighborhood ; and the people on the road- 
way, looking across the field, laughed and said, " That's 
a little too young a boy to do work like that." 

He was cheered and aided by his little brother 
Owen, who ran out occasionally to meet him as he 
turned the nearest corner. Sometimes he even went 
all the way around, chatting breathlessly as he trotted 
after. At other times he was prevailed upon to bring 
out a cooky and a glass of milk from the house. 
Notwithstanding all this, ploughing was lonesome, tire- 
some work. 



The Fall's Ploughing li 

The flies were savage, and the horses suffered from 
their attacks, especially in the middle of the day. 
They drove badly because of their suffering, their 
tails continually got over the lines, and in stopping 
to kick the flies off they got astride the traces, and 
in other ways were troublesome. Only in early 
morning or when the sun sank low at night, were 
the loyal brutes able to move quietly in their ways. 

The soil was a smooth, dark, sandy loam, which 
rnade it possible for Lincoln to do the work expected 
of him. Often the plough went the entire mile 
" round " without striking a root or a pebble as big 
as a walnut, running steadily with a crisp, craunching, 
shearing sound, which was pleasant to hear. The 
work would have been thoroughly enjoyable to Lin- 
coln had it not been so incessant. 

He cheered himself in every imaginable way ; he 
whistled, he sang, and he studied the clouds. He 
ate the beautiful red seed vessels upon the wild-rose 
bushes, and watched the prairie chickens as they came 
together in great swarms, running about in the stubble 
field seeking food. He stopped a moment to study 
the lizards he upturned. He observed the little gran- 
aries of wheat which the mice and gophers had de- 
posited in the ground and which the plough threw out. 
His eye dwelt lovingly on the sailing hawk, on the 
passing of wild geese, and on the occasional shadowy 
presence of a prairie wolf. 

There were days, however, when nothing could 
cheer him, when the wind blew cold from the north, 



12 Boy Life on the Prairie 

when the sky was full of great, swiftly hurrying, ragged 
clouds, and the whole world was gloomy and dark; 
when the horses' tails streamed in the wind, and his 
own ragged coat flapped round his little legs and 
wearied him. There were worse mornings, when a 
coating of snow covered the earth, and yet the ploughing 
went on. These were the most distressing of all days, 
for as the sun rose the mud softened and " gummed " 
his boots and trouser legs, clogging his steps and mak- 
ing him weep and swear with discomfort and despair. 
He lost the sense of being a bov, and yet he was 
unable to prove himself a man by quietly quitting work. 

Day after day, through the month of September and 
deep into October, Lincoln followed his team in the 
field, turning over two acres of stubble each day. At 
last it began to grow cold, so cold that in the early 
morning he was obliged to put one hand in his pocket 
to keep it warm, while holding the plough with the other. 
His hands grew red and chapped and sore by reason 
of the constant keen nipping of the air. His heart was 
sometimes very bitter and rebellious, because of the 
relentless drag of his daily toil. It seemed that the 
stubble land miraculously restored itself each night. 
His father did not intend to be cruel, but he was him- 
self a hard-working man, an earlv riser, and a swift 
workman, and it seemed a natural and necessary thing 
to have his sons work. He himself had been bound 
out at nine years of age, and had never known a week's 
release from toil. 

As it grew colder morning by morning, Lincoln 



The Fall's Ploughing 13 

observed that the ground broke into little flakes before 
the standing coulter. This gave him joy, for soon it 
would be frozen too hard to plough. At last there came 
a morning, when by striking his heel upon the ground, 
he convinced his father that it was too hard to break, 
and he was allowed to remain in the house. These 
were beautiful hours of respite. He had time to play 
about the barn or to read. He usually read, devouring 
anything he could lay his hands upon, newspapers, 
whether old or new, or pasted on the wall or piled up 
in the garret. His mother declared he would stand 
on his head to read a paper pasted on the wall. Books 
were scarce, but he borrowed remorselessly and so read 
" Franklin's Autobiography," " Life of P. T. Barnum," 
Scott's " Ivanhoe," and " The Female Spy." 

But unfortunately the sun came out warm and bright, 
after these frosty nights, the ground softened up, and his 
father's imperious voice rang out, " Come, Lincoln, 
time to hitch up," and once more the boy returned to 
the toil of the field. 

But at last there came a day when Lincoln shouted 
with joy as he stepped out of the house. The ground 
was frozen hard and rung under the feet of the horses 
like iron, and the bitter wind, raw and gusty, swept out 
of the northwest, with spiteful spitting of snowflakes. 
Winter had come, and ploughing was over at last. The 
plough was brought in, cleaned and greased to prevent 
its rusting, and upturned in the tool-shed, and Lincoln 
began to look forward to the opening day of school. 




A LONELY task it is to plough ! 

All day the black and clinging soil 
Rolls like a ribbon from the mould-board's 

Glistening curve. All day the horses toil 
Battling with the flies — and strain 
Their creaking collars. All day 
The crickets jeer from wind-blown shocks of grain. 

October brings the frosty dawn, 

The still, warm noon, the cold, clear night, 
When torpid crickets make no sound. 
And wild-fowl in their southward flight 
Go by in hosts — and still the boy 
And tired team gnaw round by round. 
At weather-beaten stubble, band by band, 

Until at last, to their great joy, 
The wijiter's snow seals up the unploughed land. 
14 



The Fall's Ploughing 15 

One day he was sent to borrow a sand-sieve of 
neighbor Jennings, and on his way he crossed a big 
pond in the creek. The ice, newly formed, was clear 
as glass, and looking down he saw hundreds of fish, pick- 
erel, muskelunge, suckers, red-horse, mud-cats, sunfish 
— the water was boiling with them ! Instantly the boy 
became greatly excited. Never had he seen so many 
fish, and he looked round to see the cause of it. The 
creek had fallen to a thin stream, over which these large 
fish could not move, and they were caught in a trap. 

Hurrying on down to the Jennings place, he put his 
news into the most exciting words he could find. But 
Mr. Jennings, a large, jolly old fellow, only sucked his 
pipe and said, "They're no account, I guess, on account 
of the stagnant water." 

Lincoln's face fell, and hearing a snicker behind him, 
he turned and saw Milton Jennings for the first time, 
and at the moment disliked him. He had a thin, fair, 
smiling, handsome face, and his curly, taffy-colored 
hair curled at the ends. His blue-gray eyes were full 
of mischievous lights, and his head was tipped on one 
side like a chicken's. 

" You're the new boy, ain't ye ? " 

" Well, s'pose I be ! " 

" Think you're awful smart, don't you ! S'pose I 
didn't see them fish? " 

" Well, if you did, why didn't you catch 'em ? " 

" 'Cause they're all diseased.^'' He gave a dreadful 
emphasis to the word, and Lincoln knew he got it from 
his father. 



1 6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

In the silence that followed Lincoln remembered his 
errand. " Father wants to borrow your sand-sieve." 

"All right. Go get it for him, Milton." 

The two boys walked off, shoulder to shoulder. 
Milton was about a year older than Lincoln, and 
readier of speech. His profile was as fine as the image 
on a coin, but he was not so handsome and strong as 
Ranee Knapp. He wore a suit of store clothes ; true, 
they were old, but the fit of the coat and trousers made 
a deep impression upon Lincoln. He had heard that 
Mr. Jennings was one of the well-to-do farmers of the 
prairie, and the gleaming white paint on their house 
seemed to verify the rumor. 

With the sieve on his head, he lingered to say 
good-by, for he was beginning to like the smiling boy. 

" Come o\'er and see me," said Milton. 

" All right ; vou come over and see me." 

" Lve got a gun." 

" So've I — anyhow, father lets me fire it off. I 
hunt gophers with it." 

" So do I, and ducks. Say, s'pose we set together at 
school." 

"All right. I'd like to." 

" Begins a week from Monday. Well, good-by." 

" Good-by." 

Lincoln went away feeling very light-hearted, for 
the last words of the boy were cordial and hearty. He 
loved to joke, hut he was, after all, a good boy. 

That night as they were all sitting round the lamp 
reading, Mr. Stewart said, "Well, wife, I suppose we've 



The Fall's Ploughing 17 

got to take these boys to town and fit 'em out ready 
for school." 

" Oh, goody ! " cried Owen. " Now I can spend 
my six centses." 

He danced with joy all the evening and could hardly 
compose himself to sleep. At breakfast neither of them 
had any appetite, and their willingness to do chores 
would have amazed Mr. Stewart, only he had known 
such " spells " before. 

As they rattled off down the road in the cold, clear 
morning, the boys were round-eyed with excitement, 
and studied every house and barn with such prolonged 
interest that their heads revolved on their necks like 
young owls. It was a plain prairie road which ran part 
of the way through lanes of rail fences, and part of 
the way diagonally across vacant quarter-sections, but 
it lead toward timber land and the county town ! It 
was all wonderful country to the boys. 

Rock River had only one street of stores and black- 
smith shops and taverns, but it was an imposing place 
to Lincoln, and Owen clung close to his father's legs 
like a scared puppy. Both stumbled over nail-kegs 
and grub-hoes, while their eyes devoured people, and 
jars of candy, and mittens hanging on a string. When 
they spoke they whispered, as if in church, pointing 
with stubby finger, " See there ! " what time some new 
wonder broke on their sight. 

Each had a few pennies to spend, and they were 
soon sucking sticks of candy, while they listened to the 
talk of the grocer. Owen's mouth was filled with 
c 



1 8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

a big striped " marble " while his father was putting 
caps on his head as if he were a hitching-post, and his 
hands were so sticky he could scarcely try on his new 
mittens. 

The buying of boots was the crowning joy of the 
day, or would have been, if Mr. Stewart had not insisted 
on their taking those which were a size too large for 
them. No one wore shoes in those days. The war 
still dominated, and a sort of cavalry boot was the model. 
Lincoln's had red tops with a golden moon in the cen- 
tre, while Owen's were blue, with a flag. They had a 
delicious smell, too, and the hearts of the youngsters 
glowed every time they looked at them. Lincoln was 
delighted to find that his did not have copper toes. He 
considered copper-toed shoes fit only for babies. A 
youth who had ploughed seventy acres of land couldn't 
reasonably be expected to wear copper-toed boots. 

Then there were new books to be bought, also. A 
new geography, a new " Ray's Arithmetic," and a slate. 
These new books had a nice smell, also, and there was 
charm in the smooth surface of the unmarked slates. At 
last, with all their treasures under the seat, where they 
could look at them or feel of them, with their slates 
clutched in their hands, the boys jolted home in silence, 
dreaming of the new boots and mittens and scarfs which 
they would put on when the next snow-storm came. 
Lincoln was pensive and silent all the evening, for he 
was digesting the mass of new sights, sounds, and sensa- 
tions which the day's outing had thrust upon him. 

Meanwhile, he had made but few acquaintances, and 



The Fall's Ploughing 19 

looked forward to his first day at school with nervous 
dread. He knew something of the torment to which 
big boys subject little ones, and he felt very weak 
and diminutive as he thought of leading Owen up the 
the road that first morning, when every face was strange. 
He knew but two boys, Milton Jennings and Ranee 
Knapp. Ranee was not easy to become acquainted with, 
but Lincoln felt a confidence in him which Milton did 
not inspire. He had seen but little of either of them, 
and had no feeling of comradeship with them. His bat- 
tles, and those of Owen also, must be fought out alone. 
As the cold winds arose, and the leaves of the popple 
trees and hazel bushes were stripped away, the prairie 
took on a wilder, fiercer look. The prairie chickens, in 
immense flocks, gathered in the corn-fields to feed, and 
the boys were fired with evil desires. They built a trap, 
and caught several, and when they were killed and 
dressed and fried they ate them with relish born of a 
salt pork diet. Aside from these splendid birds, innumer- 
able chickadees, and a few owls, there was no other bird 
life. The prairies became silent, lone, wind-swept, and 
the cattle drew close around the snow-piles, and the peo- 
ple crowded into their small shacks, and waited for 
winter. 





WINTER WINDS 



The school-house stood a mile away on the prairie, 
with not even a fence to shield it from the blast. 
There had been a good deal of talk about setting out 
a wind-break, Mr. Jennings said, but nothing had yet 
been done. It was merely a square, box-like structure, 
with three windows on a side and two in front. It 
was painted a glaring white on the outside and a drab 
within ; at least that was the original color, but the 
benches were greasy and hacked until all first intentions 
were obscured. 

A big box-stove, sitting in a square puddle of 
bricks, a wooden chair, and a table completed the 
furniture. The walls, where not converted into black- 
boards, were merely plastered over, and the windows 
had no shades. Altogether it was not inviting, even 
to the residents of Sun Prairie ; and Lincoln, who 
stole across one Sunday morning to look in, came away 
much depressed. He was fond of school. It was a 
chance to get clear of farm work and also an oppor- 
tunity to meet his fellows, — he never missed a day 
if he could help it, — but the old school-house in Wis- 
consin had stood in a lovely spot under some big burr 
oaks, with a meadow and trout brook riot far away, 



winter Winds 2i 

and this bare building on the naked prairie seemed a 
poor place indeed. 

In this small room, whose windows rattled in the 
wind, in this little coop which congealed like an egg 
in the winds of winter and baked like a potato in the 
remorseless suns of summer, some thirty boys and girls 
met to study, and therein some of them received all 
the education in books they ever got. The fact that 
they endured it without complaint is a suggestive com- 
mentary on the homes from which they came. 

Nearly every family lived in two or three rooms. 
The Stewarts had three rooms in winter. In one 
they lived and cooked and sat. The husband and 
wife occupied a bedroom below, and the children 
slept above in the garret, close to the stovepipe. In 
summer the small house mattered less, for the chil- 
dren had all outdoors to spread over ; but in winter 
they were unwholesomely crowded, and Mrs. Stewart 
carried on her work at great disadvantage. It was 
terribly cold in the garret, and the boys usually made 
a dash for it when going to bed, and on very cold 
mornings ran down to dress beside the kitchen stove. 

Their clothing was largely cotton and ill-fitting. 
Their underclothing was " cotton-flannel," made by 
their overworked mother. Over this they generally 
wore an old pair of trousers, and denim overalls went 
outside " to break the cold winds." Each boy had 
a sort of visored cap, with a gorget which fell down 
over his ears and neck in stormy weather, and which 
could be rolled up on sunny days. They also wore 



22 Boy Life on the Prairie 

long mufflers of gay-colored wool, which they wound 
round their heads and over their ears when the wind 
was keen. It was common for the big girls to "work" 
these scarfs for their sweethearts. The boys' boots 
were always a size too large, in order to admit of 
shrinking in wet weather, and also to make the wear- 
ing of thick socks possible during midwinter. They 
looked exactly like diminutive men, with their long 
trousers, boots, gloves, and caps, and it took a savage 
wind to scare them. 

It was a cold, bleak morning with much snow when 
Lincoln set out with his books under his arm and a 
little tin pail (filled with his lunch) dangling from his 
mittened hand, — a comical, squat, little figure. He 
trudged along alone, for Owen did not venture out. 
On the road he could see other children assembling, 
and upon nearing the school-house he found a dozen 
boys engaged in a game called " dog and deer," and 
too much occupied to pay any attention to him. 

He had seen the game played before. It consisted 
of a series of loops through which the " dogs " were 
forced to run, while the "deer" were allowed to leap 
across the narrow necks where the loops approached 
each other. Two of the players having been selected 
to act as "dogs," all the others became "deer" and 
fled off into the loops, which were drawn in the deep 
snow by the entire band of players moving in single 
file, scuffling out the paths. 

It was an exceedingly exciting and interesting game, 
and Lincoln forgot that he was a stranger. He was 



Winter Winds 23 

brought to a sense of his weakness when Rangely Moss 
ran up and threw him down and put snow in his 
neck to see if he would cry. He did not. He swore 
softly, for he had learned that to show fear or anger 
would only bring other persecutions. He merely said 
in his heart, " When I grow up, I'll kill you." 

Upon the ringing of the bell, every boy made a 
rush for a seat on the south side, while the girls 
quietly took position opposite. Why this should be 
Lincoln never understood, because it was exceedingly 
cold and windy by the north windows. But as it gave 
him a sunny seat, he had no mind to complain. There 
was some squabbling and disputing, but in a short time 
all were seated. Lincoln found himself sitting with 
Milton Jennings, and was well pleased. 

" Hello ! Got here, did you .? " said Milton. 

The teacher turned out to be a slender, scholarly 
young man, who seemed very timid and gentle to the 
strong, rude boys. He toed in a little, and Rangely 
Moss winked in derision of him and in promise of 
mischief. 

Lincoln was amazed to see so many pupils and 
wondered where they all came from. There were 
three or four " big girls," women they seemed to him, 
and as many boys who were grown-up young men. 
When the teacher came to his desk to look at his 
books, he appeared to be a little surprised to find the 
Fifth Reader in his hands. 

" Is this your book ? " he asked. 

"Yes, sir," replied Lincoln. 



24 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" Do you read this ? " 

"Yes, sir." Lincoln was suffering agonies of bash- 
fulness at being thus singled out for questioning before 
the school. 

" Let me hear you. Read this." He opened the 
book at one of Wendell Phillips's orations. 

The boy knew it by heart, and it was well he did, for 
his eyes were dim with confusion as he gabbled off the 
first paragraph. 

" That'll do," said the teacher. " You may go on 
with the class." 

The relief was so sudden that Lincoln could not 
thank him. His throat was "lumpy and sticky " for a 
few minutes. 

This drew attention to him at once, and smoothed 
the way for him, too. He had no further rough usage 
by the boys. They had a certain respect for the shock- 
headed boy of ten, who could read " Webster's Reply to 
Hayne " or " Lochiel's Warning." He was found to 
be a good speller, also, and that was in his favor, and 
counterbalanced his slowness as a " dog." 

At recess, when Rangely assaulted him. Ranee ran up 
behind, and pushed the bully sprawling. Rangely was 
furious with rage, and chased Ranee for five minutes, 
with intent to do him harm ; but Ranee was swift as a 
coyote, and eluded the big fellow with ease. When 
Rangely gave it up. Ranee came close to Lincoln, and 
said, " When I'm fourteen I'm going to lick that fool 
like hell." And it was plain he meant it. 

After winter fairly set in it was a long, hard walk to 



Winter Winds 25 

school, but these little men prided themselves on not 
missing a day. They were almost the youngest pupils 
in school, but, led by Lincoln, Owen turned up every 
morning, puffing and wheezing like a small porpoise, 
his cheeks red as apples, and his boots frozen hard as 
rocks. He had the spirit of the old vikings in his soul, 
and laughed in the teeth of a gale which would have 
made a grown-up city-dweller shiver with dismay. 

Sometimes the thermometer fell thirty degrees below 
zero, and the snow, mixed with dust from the ploughed 
land, swept like water across the road, confusing and 
blinding the lads, moving like fine sand under their feet. 
Many, many days, when flying snow hid the world, 
these minute insects set forth merrily as larks in spring- 
time. The winter was an exceedingly severe one, and 
some of the children came to school with ears and noses 
badly frosted. Lincoln and Owen were quite generally 
in a state of skin-renewing, but these were battle scars, 
and not a subject of jest. 

The boys always went early, in order to have an hour 
at " dog and deer," or " dare-goal," or " pom-pom pull- 
away." It seemed they could not get enough of play. 
Every moment of " ree-cess " (as they called it) was 
made use of. With a mad rush they left the room, and 
returned to it only at the last tap of the bell. They 
were all hardy as Indians, and cared nothing for the cold 
as they ran, chasing each other like wolves. But when 
they came in, they barked like husky dogs, and puffed 
and wheezed so loudly that all study was for a time 
suspended. They caught their colds in the house, and 



26 Boy Life on the Prairie 

not in the open air; for when the " north end of a south 
wind " beat and clamored round the building, its ill-fit- 
ting windows rattled, and the cold streamed in like water. 
Many a girl caught her death-cold in that miserable 
shack, and went to her grave a gentle martyr to shiftless 
management. 

Every one necessarily had chilblains, and on warm 
days the boys pounded their heels and kicked their toes 
against the seats, to allay the intolerable burning and 
itching. Lincoln suffered worse than Owen, and often 
pulled his left foot half-way out of its boot to find relief. 
The kicking, banging, and scuffling of feet became so 
loud and so incessant at times that the recitations were 
interrupted, but the teacher had known chilblains him- 
self, and made as little complaint as possible. 

" Dog and deer," or " fox and geese," could be played 
only when the snow was new-fallen and undisturbed, 
which was seldom, for the wind, that uneasy spirit of 
the sky, builder of scarp and battlement, scooper of 
vaults and carver of plinths, — tireless, treacherous 
tracker of the plains, — stripped the ground bare in one 
place, to build some fantastic structure in another, until 
the snow lay heaped and piled in long lines and waves 
and pikes behind every bush and post and rock, and 
the games of loops and circles were over. 

Often Lincoln sat by the window, with a forgotten 
book in his hand, watching the snow as it rustled up 
against the leeward window, seeing it slide up some 
fantastic heap, a miniature Pike's Peak, or Shasta-like 
dome, only to swirl softly around the summit, and fall 



Winter Winds 27 

away in a wreath of misty white, apparently without 
accomplishing anything. But it did, for the heap grew 
larger and sharper, just as the peaks of frost grew 
higher on the window pane. Outside the shelter, the 
other snows went sweeping, streaming by, like the 
swash of swift foam-white water, misty for very speed. 
He used to wonder where a particular cloud or wave of 
snow came from and where it would stop. What was 
the mysterious force which hurried it on ? 

There was little intercourse between the boys and 
girls in the school, mainly because the sports were 
austere and of a sort in which the girls took little inter- 
est. They (poor things) could only sit in the bare and 
chalky little room and make tattin' or some useless 
thing like that. 

At twelve o'clock they all ate dinner ; that is, such 
of them as had not eaten it at recess. This dinner 
was usually made up of long slices of white bread 
buttered prodigiously in lumps, and frozen as hard as 
" linkum vity." Dessert was a piece of mince pie, 
which being hastily warmed was hot on one side and 
like chopped ice on the other, and made many an ach- 
ing tooth. Doughnuts, " fried-cakes " as they were 
called, were general favorites. They did not freeze so 
hard, were portable, and could be eaten "on the sly" 
during school hours, in order that no time should be 
wasted in eating at noon. 

It will be admitted that these were grim experiences, 
and there will be little wonder that Lincoln's memories 
of those days are not unmixed with the stern and love- 



28 Boy Life on the Prairie 

less. Most of the pupils went to school only from De- 
cember to March, and the winter sky, dazzling with its 
southern sun, or dark with its stormy clouds, and the 
flutter and roar of the wind and the snow, runs through 
their recollection of the time. Sufferings and strife 
abounded, but these bold hearts fought the bitter and 
relentless cold and gloom with uncomplaining resolution. 

The big girls and boys went miles away to dances in 
some small cabin and came yawningly to school next 
day, but the small boys had little recreation beyond 
occasional games of " hi spy " or " dare-gool." 

As there were no hills on which to coast, they 
were forced to be content with " dare-gool," " snap the 
whip," and " pom-pom pullaway." Success in these 
sports depended upon s.wiftness in turning and dodging, 
and Lincoln was only moderately successful therein ; 
but Ranee, young as he was, held his own against the 
biggest and swiftest boys. He had the lightness and 
lithe grace of a young Cheyenne. 

Milton preferred to stand in the lee of the building 
and make comical remarks about everybody else, and 
the big boys all had a healthy respect for his sharp wit. 

The coolly boys adapted themselves to the level 
country at once, and really did not miss the hills and 
trees of their birthplace so much as one might imagine, 
but sometimes when the first soft flakes of a gentle 
snow-storm came whirling down, Lincoln remembered 
indefinably the pleasure he once took in seeing through 
the woodland the slant lines of the driving storm, and a 
feeling of sadness swept over him. When the icy crust 



Winter Winds 29 

sparkled under the vivid light of the moon, he recalled 
the long hill, down which he used to whizz on his red 
sled — down past the well, through the gate, and on 
over the meadow bog, — but which grew more and 
more remote as new interests and new friends and the 
pressure of other circumstances came on to make his 
memories of the Coolly very dim and insubstantial and 
far off. A house set close under a hill became now 
a picture in his mind — with the quality of a poem. 
Milton was a source of trouble to Lincoln and 
others who possessed a keen sense of the ludicrous 
and small powers of self-restraint, for he was able to 
provoke them to spasmodic snorts of laughter in school 
hours, for which they were promptly punished, while 
the real culprit went free. He had a way of putting 
his little fingers in his mouth and his index fingers in 
the corners of his eyes, thus turning his long face into 
the most grotesque and mirth-provoking mask. Natu- 
rally, as he could not see how ludicrous he himself was, 
and as he had the power to laugh heartily without 
uttering a sound, and the ability also to instantly re- 
turn to a very serious and absorbed expression, every- 
body suffered but himself. His scalp seemed made of 
gutta-percha, for he was able to corrugate it in most 
unexpected ways. He could wag his ears like a horse 
when drinking, and lift one eyebrow while the other 
sadly drooped ; and, worse than all, he could look like 
old man Brown, who had sore eyes and no teeth, or 
like Elder Bliss, who was fat as a porker and had red 
cheeks and severe, small eyes. 



JO Boy Life on the Prairie 

Hardly a day passed that some boy did not explode 
in a wild whoop of irresistible laughter, to receive 
swift punishment from the master, who had no way 
of discoverino- the real disturber. Circumstantial evi- 
dence was always taken as conclusive proof of guilt, 
and Milton himself had an almost unimpeachable char- 
acter in the eyes of his teacher ; he was so bright and 
handsome and respectful, quite a prize scholar in fact. 
" A modil boy," old Mrs. Brown said in speaking of 
him. 

Ranee was a good student, but never showy even 
in mathematics, in which he was exceedingly apt. 
Lincoln soon took rank as one of the best spellers in 
school, and his memory was good in geography and 
history, but he was easily " stumped " in figures. He 
knew his old McGufFy Readers almost by heart, and 
loved the wild song which ran through " Lochiel's 
Warning" and "The Battle of Waterloo." "Web- 
ster's Reply to Hayne " thrilled him with its majestic 
rolling thunder of words, and he liked Whittier's " Pris- 
oner of Debt," especially that verse which called on 
somebody to — 

"ring the bells and fire the guns. 
And fling the starry banner out." 

He liked the vivid contrast of the next stanza : — 

** Think ye yon prisoner's aged ear 
Rejoices in your general cheer ? 
Think vou hrs dim and failing eye 
Is kindled at your pageantry ? " 



Winter Winds 31 

" Marco Bozzaris " and " Rienzi's Address to the 
Romans " and " Regulus before the Carthaginians " — 
dozens of other bombastic and flamboyant and mouth- 
filling poems and speeches — he knew by heart and 
often repeated in the silence of the fields or on the 
road to school. In the class he was always pleased 
(and scared) when the passionate verses came to him, 
— the verses with the "long primer caps," like: — 

** STRIKE for your altars and your fires ! ' ' 
and 

" Rouse, ye Romans ! Rouse, ye slaves ! " 

He generally came out very well, if his breath did not 
fail on the most important word, as it sometimes did 
when visitors were present. 

Most of the scholars hated those dramatic passages, 
and slid over them in rattling haste with most prosaic 
intonation, but Lincoln had a notion that the author's 
intention should be carried out if possible. Sometimes 
swept away by some power within, he struck exactly 
the right note, and the scholars responded with a sud- 
den thrill, and he felt his own hair stir. Altogether 
he had a modest estimate of his powers and a pro- 
found admiration for those who were able to see 
meaning in x -\- y = z. 

The winter days were very well filled with work or 
study or pastimes. Every morning before it was light, 
his father called in exactly the same way : " Lincoln, 
Owen! Come — your chores." Their chores con- 
sisted of cleaning out behind the horses, milking the 



32 Boy Life on the Prairie 

cows, and currying the horses. They disliked milk- 
ing cordially, even in' pleasant summer weather, when 
the cows were clean and standing in the open air, but 
they went to this task in winter with a bitter hatred, 
for the cattle stood in narrow, ill-smelling stalls, close 
and filthy, especially of a morning. Taking care of 
the horses was less repulsive, but that had its discom- 
forts. The scurf and hair got into their mouths and 
ears, and currying was hard work besides. They always 
smelled of the barn, and " Clean y'r boots " was a regu- 
lar outcry from their watchful mother. 

Having finished these tasks, they ate breakfast, which 
was often made up of buckwheat cakes, sausage (of 
home-made flavor), and molasses, — good, strong food 
and fairly wholesome. After breakfast all the cattle 
were turned into the yard and watered at the well. 
This meant a half-an-hour of hard pumping, but ended 
the morning duties. They then put on their clean 
brown blouses and went awav to school. 

School closed at four, and they hurried home to do 
the evening chores. The stalls were spread with fresh 
straw, the cattle again watered, and the cows brought 
into their places and again milked. This usually kept 
them busy till dark. Supper was eaten by lamplight, 
and ended the day's duties, and from seven to nine they 
were free to go visiting, to play " hi spy," or pop corn, 
or play dominoes or " authors," or read. With a book 
or a paper Lincoln had little thought of playing any game. 
Sometimes, with Owen, he set forth to find Ranee and 
play a game of " hi spv," or he went across the wide 



Winter Winds ^^ 

and solemn prairie to some entertainment in a neighbor- 
ing school-house. Generally, if anything special were 
going on, the family drove over in the big bob sleigh, 
the box filled with fresh straw and buffalo robes, which 
were cheap in those days. 

There was a boy in most families just the right age 
to bring in the wood and the kindling, which he consid- 
ered a mighty task. Lincoln did this until old enough 
to milk, when he moved up to give place to Owen. 
Owen puffed and wheezed and complained and shed 
bitter tears for a couple of years or so, and then began 
to train Tommy to the task. Mary, at eight years of 
age, began to help her mother about the dishes and in 
dusting things, which she detested quite as bitterly as 
Owen disliked milking, but was willing to take care of 
the horses. 

Lincoln objected to work very largelv because it took 
up time which might otherwise have been employed in 
reading. He was swift and strong in action, and 
hustled through his chores like a sturdy young cyclone, 
in order to get at some story. Owen objected to work, 
purely because it was work and interfered with some 
queer project of his own. He never read, but was al- 
ways pottering about himself, busy at some mechanical 
thing, talking to himself like a bumblebee, and produc- 
ing no results whatever. 

D 



LOST IN A NORTHER 

There are voices of pain 

In the autumn rain. 
There are pipings drear in the grassy zvaste^ 
There are lonely sivells whose summits rise 
Till they touch and blend with the sombre skies^ 
Where massed clouds tvildly haste. 

I sit on my horse in boot and spur 

As the night falls drear 

On the lonely plain. Afar 1 hear 

The honk of goose and swift wing's whir 

Through the graying deeps of the upper air — 

Like weary great birds the clouds sail low — 

The winds now wail like women in woe, 

Now mutter and growl like lions in lair. 

Lost on the prairie ! All day alone 
With my faithful horse, my swift Ladrone. 
And the shapes on the shadow my scared soul cast. 
Which way is north ? Which way is west ? 
I ask Ladrone, for he knows best. 
And he turns his head to the blast. 
He whinnies and turns at my voice's sound, 
And then impatiently paws the ground. 
34 



Lost in a Norther 2S 

The night's gray turns to a starless black, 
And the drifting drizzle and flying wrack 
Have melted away into rayless night. 
The wind like an actor, childish with age, 
Plays all his characters — now sobs with rage. 
Now flees like a girl in fright. 

I turn from the wind, a treacherous guide. 
And touch my knee to the glossy side 
Of my ready horse, and the prairie wide 
Slips by like a sea under bounding keel : 
As I pat his neck and feel the swell 
Of his mighty chest and swift limbs' play. 
The sorrowful wind-voice dies away. 

The coyote starts from a shivering sleep 
On the grassy edge of a gully's steep. 
And silently slips through wind-blown weeds. 
The prairie hen from before my feet 
Springs up in haste with swift wings' beat, 
And into the dark like a bullet speeds. 

Which way is east ? Which way is south ? 
Is not to be answered when dark as the mouth 
Of a red-lipped wolf the night shuts down. 
I look in vain for a star or light ; 
Ladrone speeds on in steady flight, 
His ears laid back in an anxious frown. 



The lono; grass breaks on his steaming- breast 
As foam is dashed from the billow's crest 



^6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

By a keen-prowed ship. 

I see it not, but I hear it whip 

On my stirrup-shield, and feel the rush 

And spiteful lash of the hazel brush. 

The night grows colder — the wind again — 
Jh ! What is that F I pull at the rein 
And turn my face to the blast. 
It ivas sleet on my cheek. Ay — thick and fast 
The startled snow through the darkness leaps, 
As massed in the mighty north wind's wing 
Like an air-borne army's rushing swing, 
The dreaded norther upon me sweeps. 

/ hoived my head till the streaming mane 
Of my patiting horse luarmed cheek again 
And plunged straight into the night amain. 

% if. -^ i(, -^ if. 

Day came and found me slowly riding on 
With senses bound as in a chain. 
Through drifting deeps of snow, Ladrone 
Dumbly, faithful plodded on, the rein 
Flung low upon his weary neck. 
I long had ceased to fear or reck 
Of death by cold or wolf or snow. 
Bent grimly on my saddle-bow. 

if if if if if if 

My limbs were numb ; I seemed to ride 
Upon some viewless, rushing tide — 
My hands hung helpless at my side. 



Lost in a Norther 37 

The multitudinous, trampling snows, 
With solemn, ceaseless, rushing din, 
Swept round and over me : far and wide 
A roaring silence shut the senses in. 
Above me through the hurtling shrouds 
The far sky, red with morning glows, 
Looked down at times 
And then was lost in clouds. 

But were my tongue with poet's spell 
Aflame, I could not tell 
The tale of biting hunger — cold — the hell 
Of fear that age-long night ! 
How life seemed only in my brain ; the wind, 
The foam-white breeze of wintry seas 
That roared in wrath from left to right, 
Striking the helpless deaf and blind. 
* * ^. * * * 

The third morn broke upon my sight. 

Streamed through the window of the room 

In which I woke, I know not how — 

Broke radiant in a golden bloom 

As though God smiled away the night. 

Like an eternal, changeless sea 

Of marble lay the plain 

In dazzling, moveless, soundless waste, 

Horizon-girt, without a stain. 

The air was still; no breath or sound 
Came from the white expanse — 



38 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The whole earth seemed to wait in trance, 

In hushed expectant silence bound. 

And oh the beauty of the eastern sky, 

Where glowed the herald banners of the King- 

And as I looked with famished eye, 

Lo, day came on me with a spring ! 

Along the iridescent billows of the snow 
The sun-god shot his golden beams. 
Like flaming arrows from the bow. 
He broke on every crest, and gleams 

Of radiant fire 

Alit on every spire. 
Along the great sun's pathway as he came. 
And cloudless, soft, serene as May, 
Opened the jocund day. 





CHAPTER IV 



THE GREAT BLIZZARD 



A BLIZZARD on the prairie corresponds to a storm at 
sea ; it never affects the traveller twice alike. Each 
norther seems to have a manner of attack all its own. 
One storm may be short, sharp, high-keyed, and malevo- 
lent, while another approaches slowly, relentlessly, wear- 
ing out the souls of its victims by its inexorable and 
long-continued cold and gloom. One threatens for 
hours before it comes, the other leaps like a tiger upon 
the defenceless settlement, catching the children un- 
housed, the men unprepared ; of this character was the 
first blizzard Lincoln ever saw. 

The day was warm and sunny. The eaves dripped 
musically, and the icicles dropping from the roof fell oc- 
casionally with pleasant crash. The snow grew slushy, 
and the bells of wood teams jingled merrily all the fore- 
noon, as the farmers drove to their timber-lands five or 
six miles away. The room was uncomfortably warm 
at times, and the master opened the outside door. It 
was the eighth day of January. One afternoon recess, 
as the boys were playing in their shirt-sleeves, Lincoln 

39 



40 Boy Life on the Prairie 

called Milton's attention to a great cloud rising in the 
west and north. A vast, slaty-blue, seamless dome, 
silent, portentous, with edges of silvery frosty light. 

" It's going to storm," said Milton. " It always 
does when we have a south wind and a cloud like that 
in the west." 

When Lincoln set out for home, the sun was still 
shining, but the edge of the cloud had crept, or more 
properly slid, across the sun's disk, and its light was 
growing cold and pale. In fifteen minutes more the 
wind from the south ceased — there was a moment of 
breathless pause, and then, borne on the wings of the 
north wind, the streaming clouds of soft, large flakes of 
snow drove in a level line over the homeward-bound 
scholars, sticking to their clothing and faces and melting 
rapidly. It was not yet cold enough to freeze, though 
the wind was colder. The growing darkness troubled 
Lincoln most. 

By the time he reached home, the wind was a gale, 
the snow a vast blinding cloud, fillino- the air and hidmo; 
the road. Darkness came on instantly, and the wind 
increased in power, as though with the momentum of 
the snow. Mr. Stewart came home early, yet the breasts 
of his horses were already sheathed in snow. Other 
teamsters passed, breasting the storm, and calling cheer- 
ily to their horses. One team, containing a woman and 
two men, neighbors living seven miles north, gave up 
the contest, and turned in at the gate for shelter, confi- 
dent that they would be able to go on in the morning. 
In the barn, while rubbing the ice from the horses, the 



The Great Blizzard 41 

men joked and told stories in a jovial spirit, with the 
feeling generally that all would be well by daylight. 
The boys made merry also, singing songs, popping 
corn, playing games, in defiance of the storm. 

But when they went to bed, at ten o'clock, Lincoln 
felt some vague premonition of a dread disturbance of 
nature, far beyond any other experience in his short life. 
The wind howled like ten thousand tigers, and the cold 
grew more and more intense. The wind seemed to 
drive in and through the frail tenement ; water and food 
began to freeze within ten feet of the fire. 

Lincoln thought the wind at that hour had attained 
its utmost fury, but when he awoke in the morning, he 
saw how mistaken he had been. He crept to the fire, 
appalled by the steady, solemn, implacable clamor of the 
storm. It was like the roarings of all the lions of Af- 
rica, the hissing of a wilderness of serpents, the lashing 
of great trees. It benumbed his thinking, it appalled 
his heart, beyond any other force he had ever known. 

The house shook and snapped, the snow beat in 
muffled, rhythmic pulsations against the walls, or swirled 
and lashed upon the roof, giving rise to strange, multi- 
tudinous, anomalous sounds ; now dim and far, now 
near and all-surrounding ; producing an effect of mys- 
tery and infinite reach, as though the cabin were a help- 
less boat, tossing on an angry, limitless sea. 

Looking out, there was nothing to be seen but the 
lashing of the wind and snow. When the men at- 
tempted to face it, to go to the rescue of the cattle, they 
found the air impenetrably filled with fine, powdery snow. 



42 Boy Life on the Prairie 

mixed with the dirt caught up from the ploughed fields 
by a terrific blast, moving ninety miles an hour. It was 
impossible to see twenty feet, except at long inter\als. 
Lincoln could not see at all when facing the storm. 
When he stepped into the wind, his face was coated 
with ice and dirt, as by a dash of mud — a mask which 
blinded the eyes, and instantly froze to his cheeks. 
Such was the power of the wind that he could not 
breathe an instant unprotected. His mouth being once 
open, it was impossible to draw breath again without 
turning from the wind. 

The day was spent in keeping warm and in feeding 
the stock at the barn, which Mr. Stewart reached by 
desperate dashes, during the momentary clearing of the 
air following some more than usually strong gust. Lin- 
coln attempted to water the horses from the pump, but 
the wind blew the water out of the pail. So cold had 
the wind become that a dipperful, thrown into the air, 
fell as ice. In the house it became more and more 
difficult to remain cheerful, notwithstanding the family 
had fuel and food in abundance. 

Oh, that terrible day ! Hour after hour they listened 
to that prodigious, appalling, ferocious uproar. All day 
Lincoln and Owen moved restlessly to and fro, asking 
each other, "Won't it ever stop ? " To them the storm 
now seemed too vast, too ungovernable, to ever again 
be spoken to a calm, even by God Himself. It seemed 
to Lincoln that no power whatever could control such 
fury ; his imagination was unable to conceive of a torce 
greater than this war of wind or snow. 



The Great Blizzard 43 

On the third day the family rose with weariness, and 
looked into each other's faces with a sort of horrified 
surprise. Not even the invincible heart of Duncan 
Stewart, nor the cheery good nature of his wife, could 
keep a gloomy silence from settling down upon the 
house. Conversation was scanty ; nobody laughed that 
day, but all listened anxiously to the invisible tearing at 
the shingles, beating against the door, and shrieking around 
the eaves. The frost upon the windows, nearly half 
an inch thick in the morning, kept thickening into ice, 
and the light was dim at midday. The fire melted the 
snow on the window-panes and upon the door, and 
ran along the floor, while around the key-hole and 
along every crack, frost formed. The men's faces 
began to wear a grim, set look, and the women sat with 
awed faces and downcast eyes full of unshed tears, their 
sympathies going out to the poor travellers, lost and 
freezing. 

The men got to the poor dumb animals that day to 
feed them ; to water them was impossible. Mr. Stew- 
art went down through the roof of the shed, the door 
being completely sealed up with solid banks of snow and 
dirt. One of the guests had a wife and two children 
left alone in a small cottage six miles farther on, and 
physical force was necessary to keep him from setting 
out in face of the deadly tempest. To him the nights 
seemed weeks, and the days interminable, as they did to 
the rest, but it would have been death to venture out. 

That night, so disturbed had all become, they lay 
awake listening, waiting, hoping for a change. About 



44 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

midnight Lincohi noticed that the roar was no longer so 
steady, so relentless,, and so high-keyed as before. It 
began to lull at times, and though it came back to the 
attack with all its former ferocity, still there was a per- 
ceptible weakening. Its fury was becoming spasmodic. 
One of the men shouted down to Mr. Stewart, " The 
storm is over," and when the host called back a ringing 
word of cheer, Lincoln sank into deep sleep in sheer 
relief. 

Oh, the joy with which the children melted the ice on 
the window-panes, and peered out on the familiar land- 
scape, dazzling, peaceful, under the brilliant sun and 
wide blue skv. Lincoln looked out over the wide plain, 
ridged with vast drifts ; on the far blue line of timber, 
on the near-by cottages sending up cheerful columns of 
smoke (as if to tell him the neighbors were alive), 
and his heart seemed to fill his throat. But the wind 
was with him still, for so long and continuous had its 
voice sounded in his ears, that even in the perfect calm 
his imagination supplied its loss with fainter, fancied 
roarings. 

Out in the barn the horses and cattle, hungry and 
cold, kicked and bellowed in pain, and when the men 
dug them out, they ran and raced like mad creatures, to 
start the blood circulating in their numbed and stiffened 
limbs. Air. Stewart was forced to tunnel to the barn 
door, cutting through the hard snow as if it were clay. 
7"he drifts were solid, and the dirt mixed with the snow 
was disposed on the surface in beautiful wavelets, like 
the sands at the bottom of a lake. The drifts would 



The Great Blizzard 45 

bear a horse. The guests were able to go home by 
noon, climbing above the fences, and rattling across the 
ploughed ground. 

And then in the days which followed, came grim 
tales of suffering and heroism. Tales of the finding of 
stage-coaches with the driver frozen on his seat and all 

o 

his passengers within ; tales of travellers striving to reach 
home and families. Cattle had starved and frozen in 
their stalls, and sheep lay buried in heaps beside the 
fences where they had clustered together to keep warm. 
These days gave Lincoln a new conception of the 
prairie. It taught him that however bright and beauti- 
ful they might be in summer under skies of June, they 
could be terrible when the Norther was abroad in his 
wrath. They seemed now as pitiless and destructive 
as the polar ocean. It seemed as if nothing could live 
there unhoused. All was at the mercy of that power, 
the north wind, whom only the Lord Sun could tame. 

This was the worst storm of the winter, though the 
wind seemed never to sleep. To and fro, from north to 
south, and south to north, the dry snow sifted till it was 
like fine sand that rolled under the heel with a ringing 
sound on cold days. After each storm the restless 
wind got to work to pile the new-fallen flakes into 
ridges behind every fence or bush, filling every ravine 
and forcing the teamsters into the fields and out onto the 
open prairie. It was a savage and gloomy time for 
Lincoln, with only the pleasure of his school to break 
the monotony of cold. 



SPRING RAINS 

When the snow is sunk 

And the fields are bare 

And the rising sun has a golden glare 

Through the window pane ; 

And the crow flies over 

The smooth, low hills, 

And all the air with his calling thrills, — 

All hearts leap up in joy again 

To welcome spring and the springtime rain. 

THEN IT'S SPRING 

When the hens begin 

A squawkin' 
An' a-rollin' in the dust ; 
When the rooster takes 

To talkin' 
An' a-crowin' fit to bust -, 
When the crows are cawin', flockin', 
An' the chickens boom an' sing, — 

Then it's spring ! 
When the roads are jest one mud-hole 
And the waters tricklin' round 
Makes the barn-yard like a puddle, 
46 



Prairie Chickens 47 

An' softens up the ground, 
Till y'r ankle-deep in worter, 
Sayin' words ye' hadn't orter; 
When the jay-birds swear an' sing, — 
Then it's spring ! 



PRAIRIE CHICKENS 

From brown ploughed hillocks 

In early red morning, 

They wake the tardy sower with their cheerful cry. 

A mellow boom and whoop 

That held a warning, 
A song that brought the seed-time very nigh, 
The circling, splendid anthem of their greeting, 
Ran like the mornins; beating; 
Of a hundred mellow drums — 

Boom, boom, boom ! 

Each hillock's top repeating 
Like cannon answering cannon 
When the golden sunset comes. 

They drum no more. 
Those splendid springtime pickets. 
The sweep of share and sickle 
Has thrust them from the hills ; 
They have vanished from the prairie 
Like the partridge from the thickets. 
They have perished from the sportsman, 
Who kills, and kills, and kills ! 



CHAPTER V 



THE COMING OF SPRING 



Spring came to the settlers on Sun Prairie with a 
wonderful message, like a pardon to imprisoned people. 
For five months they had been shut closely within their 
cabins. Nothing could be sweeter than the joy they 
felt when the mild south wind began to blow and the 
snow began to sink away, leaving warm brown patches 
of earth in the snowy fields. It seemed that the sun- 
god had not forsaken them, after all. 

The first island to appear in the midst of the ocean 
of slush and mud around the Stewart house, was the 
chip-pile, and there the spring's work began. As soon 
as the slush began to gather. Jack, the hired man, was 
set to work each morning, digging ditches and chopping 
canals in the ice, so that the barn would not be inun- 
dated by the spring rains. During the middle of the 
day he busied himself at sawing and splitting the pile 
of logs which Mr. Stewart had been hauling during the 
open days of winter. 

Jack came from far lands, and possessed, as Lincoln 
soon discovered, unusual powers of dancing and playing 
the fiddle. He brought, also, stirring stories of distant 
forests and strange people and manv battles, and Lin- 
coln, who had an eye for character, set himself to work 

48 



The Coming of Spring 49 

to distinguish between what the hired man knew, what 
he thought he knew, and what he merely lied about. 

There was plenty of work for the boys. They had 
cows to milk and the drains to keep open. It was 
their business also to pile the wood behind the men as 
they sawed and split the large logs into short lengths. 
They used a cross-cut saw, which made pleasant music 
in the still, warm air of springtime. Afterwards these 
pieces, split into small sticks ready for the stove, were 
thrown into a conical heap, which it was Lincoln's 
business to repile in shapely ricks. 

Boys always insist upon having entertainment even 
in their work, and Lincoln found amusement in plan- 
ning a new ditch and in seeing it remove the puddle 
before the barn-door. There was a certain pleasure, 
also, in piling wood neatly and rapidly, and in watching 
the deft and powerful swing of the shining axes, as 
they lifted and fell, and rose again in the hands of the 
strong men. 

The chip-pile, where the hired hand was busy, was 
warm and sunny by mid-forenoon, and the hens loved 
to burrow there, lying on their sides and blinking at 
the sun. The kitchen was near, too, and the boys 
knew whenever their mother was making cookies or 
fried-cakes, and could secure some while they were hot 
and fresh. Around the bright straw-piles the long-haired 
colts frisked, and the young steers fought and bellowed, 
as glad of spring as the boys. 

Then, too, the sap began to flow out of the maple 
logs, and Lincoln and Owen wore their tongues to the 

E 



50 Boy Life on the Prairie 

quick, licking the trickle from the rough wood. They 
also stripped out the inner bark of the elm logs and 
chewed it. It had a sweet nut-like flavor, and was 
considered most excellent forage ; moreover, the residue 
made a sticky pellet, which could be thrown across the 
room in school and slap against some boy's ear, when the 
teacher was not looking. The ceilings were, in fact, 
covered with these pellets, but their presence over a 
boy's desk was not considered evidence that he had 
thrown them there. 

It was back-breaking work, piling wood, and the 
boys could not have endured it, had it not been for the 
companionship of the men, and the hope they had of 
eoino; skating at nio-ht. 

The skates which the boys used were usually a rude 
sort of wooden contraption with a cheap steel runner, 
which went on with straps. Lincoln and Owen had 
one pair between them, and one was always forced to 
slide while the other used the skates. This led to fre- 
quent altercations and pleading cries of " Let me take 
'em now." 

To this day Lincoln can remember with what ecstasy, 
intermingled with rage, he sprawled about on the pond 
below the school-house, his skate-straps continually get- 
ting loose and tripping him, while his poor ankles, turn- 
ing inward till the wooden top of the skates touched 
the ice, brought certain disaster. The edges of the 
outer counters of his hard boots gouged his feet, pro- 
ducing sores, which embittered his existence during the 
skating season, notwithstanding all devices for making 



The Coming of Spring 51 

the skate stay in the middle of his sole, where it be- 
longed. Even when doing his best, he leaned perilously 
forward, swinging his arms, and toiling hard. 

Ranee had a fine pair of brass-mounted skates, with 
beautifully curving toes, which terminated in brass swan- 
heads. They had heel-sockets, also, and stayed where 
they were put, and it was very discouraging to see him 
as he skimmed over the ice almost without effort, now 
standing erect, now " rolling " from one foot to the 




'M-^^-^^^^-^ othei, \n ease which 
seemed uiipossible 
for any human being to attain, though part of it was due, 
even in Lincoln's worshipful thinking, to the skates. 

These were days of trouble for foot wear. The boys 
were in the water nearly all day while the snow was 
melting, and their cowhide boots shrank distressfully 
each night, causing their owners to weep, and kick the 
mopboard, and say, " Goldarn these dam old boots — 
I wish they was in hell," as they tried to put them on 
in the early light. They suffered at this time, more 



52 Boy Life on the Prairie 

poignantly than ever, from chilblains, and to crowd 
their swollen feet into their angular cowhide prisons 
was too grievous to be gently borne. Mrs. Stewart 
mildly protested against their swearing, but she sympa- 
thized, in spite of all. After an hour or two the leather 
softened, and the boy forgot his rage and the agony of 
the morning, till the time to kick the mopboard came 
round again. 

Every hour of free time was improved by Lincoln 
and Ranee and Milton, for they knew by experience 
how transitory the skating season was. Early in the 
crisp spring air, when the trees hung thick with frost, 
transforming the earth into fairyland, and the cloudless 
sky was blue as a ploughshare, they clattered away over 
the frozen hubbies, to the nearest pond, where the jay 
and the snowbird dashed amid the glorified willow trees, 
and the ice outspread like a burnished share. On such 
mornings the air was so crisp and still, it seemed the 
whole earth waited for the sun. 

There were no lakes or rivers near the Stewart farm, 
and the ponds were only small and temporary, formed 
by the melting snow in the wide, flat fields. The water, 
moving slowly down the hollows, or ravines, was stopped 
at the fences by huge banks of intermingled slush and 
ice, strong, hard, and thick, along some hedge or corn 
row. And there, on some evenings in March (as mys- 
teriously as in the wonder tale by Hawthorne), a lake 
suddenly lay rippling, where the day before solid land 
was. And upon the very ground where be had ploughed 
but a few months before, Lincoln skated in riotous glee 
with his playmates. 



The Coming of Spring 53 

At night, during the full moon, nearly all the boys 
and girls of the neighborhood met, to rove up and down 
the long swales, and to play " gool " or " pom-pom 
pullaway " upon the frozen ponds. These games could 
be played with skates, quite as well as in any other way. 
There was a singular charm in these excursions at night, 
across the plain, or winding up the swales filled with 
imprisoned and ice-bound water. Lincoln and Ranee 
often skated ofF alone and in silence, far away from the 
others, and the majesty of the night fell upon them with 
a light which silenced and made them afraid. 

Sometimes they biiilt bonfires on the ice, both to keep 
them warm and to add the mystery and splendor of flame 
to the gray night. Around the crackling logs the girls 
hovered, coquetting with the older boys. Lincoln and 
Ranee were usually in the thick of the games, or explor- 
ing new ponds far away. 

The fields and meadows retained these ponds only 
for a few days. That part of the water which could 
not mine through the frozen ground went rushing into 
the next field with such power that nothing could with- 
stand it. Then again, the sun was getting higher and 
warmer, and the ice thinner. By ten o'clock of a morn- 
ing the boys were forced to end their sport, by reason of 
the growing danger of breaking, and also because of the 
water flowing over its surface. They returned sadly to 
work at the woodpile. 

Sometimes Lincoln lingered long, studying the won- 
derful things which were taking place under the warm 
rays of the sun. As the water began to ebb, it left 



54 Boy Life on the Prairie 

upon the grass of the meadow strange formations be- 
tween the ground and the ice, which a boy's imagina- 
tion could easily turn into towns and forests, and crowds 
of animals and men — tiny cathedrals with spires, horse- 
men with spears, riding through crystal arches, and 
labyrinths of shining pillars through which the water 
gurgled and tinkled with most entrancing music. 

Often, with his ear pressed to the ice, Lincoln laid 
long listening to the faint, fairy-like melodies rung, as 
if upon tiny bells far down, mingled with splashing of 
infinitesimal waterfalls, and of rhythmical, far-away lap- 
ping of tiny wavelets, ebbing and flowing somewhere in 
crystal channels toward the sun. 

Then there were ice bubbles, which lav just under the 
surface of the ice like pellucid palettes. These were 
called " money " by the boys, and Lincoln sometimes 
dug holes through the ice with his penknife, to let them 
escape, as if he intended to discover the mystery of 
their iridescence. As the dams broke, one by one, 
they left great crystal terraces at the banks, exposing a 
whole fairy world of architecture to the boy's inquisitive 
eyes, and when the sun struck in, and lighted up the 
arches, pillars, and colonnades of this frost world, his 
heart ached with the beauty of it. 

There was a singular charm about this time of the 
year. Travel was quite impossible, for the frost had 
left the roads bottomless, and so upon the chip-pile the 
boys sat to watch the snow disappear from the fields, 
and draw sullenly away from the russet grass, to take a 
final stand at the fence corners and in the hedges. They 



The Coming of Spring 55 

watched the ducks as they came straggling back in long 
flocks, lighting in the corn-fields to find food. They 
came in enormous numbers, sometimes so great the 
sky seemed darkened with them, and when they alighted 
on the fields, they covered the ground like some strange 
down-dropping storm from the sky, and when alarmed 
they rose with a sound like the rumbling of thunder. 
At times the lines were so long that those in the front 
rank were lost in the northern sky, while those in 
the rear were dim clouds beneath the southern sun. 
Many brant and geese also passed, and it was always 
a great pleasure to Lincoln to see these noble birds 
pushing their way boldly into the north. He could 
imitate their cries, and often caused them to turn and 
waver in their flight, by uttering their resounding cries. 

One day in late March, at the close of a warm sunny 
day (just as the red disk of the sun was going down in 
a cloudless sky in the west), down from a low hilltop, 
and thrilling through the misty, wavering atmosphere, 
came a singular soft, joyous " booin^ boom^ boom^ cutta^ 
cutta^ ivar-ivhoop ! " 

" Hooray ! " shouted Lincoln. " Spring is here." 

*' What was that ? " asked the hired man. 

" That ? Why, that's the prairie chicken. It means 
it is spring ! " 

There is no sweeter sound in the ears of a prairie- 
born man than the splendid morning chorus of these 
noble birds, for it is an infallible sign that winter has 
broken at last. The drum of the prairie cock carries 
with it a thousand associations of warm sun and spring- 



^6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ing grass, which thrill the heart with massive joy of 
living. It is almost worth while to live through a long 
unbroken Western winter, just for the exquisite delight 
which comes with this first exultant phrase of the vernal 
symphony. 

Day by day this note is taken by others, until the 
whole horizon rings with the jocund call of hundreds 
of cocks, and the whooping cries of thousands of hens, 
as they flock and dance about on the bare earth of the 
ridges. Here they battle for their mates, and strut 
about till the ground is beaten hard and smooth with 
their little feet. 

About this time the banking was taken away from 
the house, and the windows, which had been sealed up 
for five months, were opened. It was a beautiful 
moment to Lincoln, when they sat at dinner in the 
kitchen, with the windows and doors wide open to the 
warm wind, and the sunshine floating in upon the floor. 
The hens, caiu^ caiuing^ in a mounting ecstasy of greet- 
ing to the spring, voiced something he had never felt 
before. 

As the woodpile took shape, Mr. Stewart called 
upon Lincoln and the hired man to help fan up the 
seed wheat. This the boys hated because it was a 
dusty and monotonous job. It was of no use to cry 
out J the work had to be done, and so, on a bright 
afternoon, while Jack turned the crank of the mill, 
Lincoln dipped wheat from the bin into the hopper, 
or held the sacks for his father to fill. It seemed 
particularly hard to be confined there in the dust and 



The Coming of Spring 57 

noise while out in the splendid sunlight the ducks 
were flying, the prairie chickens calling, and the ice 
was cracking and booming under the ring of the 
skaters' steel. 

It was about this time, also, that Lincoln became 
concerned in a series of informal cock-fights. It is 
difficult to tell how this came about. Probably be- 
cause the roosters fought more readily than at any 
other season of the year. Anyhow, the boys were 




'SS£:b , 



savage enough to enjoy each battle that broke out in 
their barn-yard. 

Lincoln yielded readily to Milton's banter, and, with 
a rooster in a bag under his arm, trotted off one Sun- 
day to Neighbor Jennings's barn-yard, there to arrange 
a bout between his rooster and a chosen warrior of 
Milton's flock. 

The actions of the roosters were amazingly human. 
The boys understood every note and gesture, and could 
tell what each bird was thinking about by the slant 
of his head, and by the way he lifted and put down 
his feet, as well as by the tones of his voice. Some- 
times the strange bird would be so disheartened by his 



58 Boy Life on the Prairie 

surroundings and by the savage aspect of his challenger, 
that he would drop his tail in dismay and run under 
the barn. This was considered a disgrace, and brought 
shame upon the owner of the fowl, which he must 
forthwith return to its own yard, and bring a better 
and more valiant warrior. 

In this case, however, the long confinement in the 
darkness of the sack had made Lincoln's bird ex- 
tremely belligerent, and, upon being released, he walked 
forth into the open arena with imperious strides, and 
blew his bugle in contempt of the world. This de- 
liffhted his master and made him regret that he had 
agreed to trade him away. 

Both birds were magnificent fellows, lofty of step, 
imperious of voice, with plumage of green and orange 
and purple, which shone in the sunlight like burnished 
brass. They were shapely, sinewy game-birds, quite 
unlike the ugly squat " Plymouth Rocks." They had 
the pride of Indian chiefs in their step, and the splen- 
dor of the rainbow in their curving tails. 

As the combatants approached each other, the boys 
clapped hands in joy of the coming fray. Suddenly 
the roosters' heads lowered and out-thrust. The shin- 
ing rufi^ around each neck bristled with anger and 
resolution. For a moment, with eyes seemingly bound 
together by some invisible thread, they moved their 
heads up and down, so silently it seemed that one was 
onlv the shadow of the other. 

Suddenly with a rush Milton's bird flung himself 
upon his foe, striking with his spurs at the heart of 



The Coming of Spring 59 

his foe. For a time neither rested. The fight was 
hot. At times they seized each other by the bill, and 
rung and twisted like turkey-cocks, or flung themselves 
against each other with flutter of wings, in a cloud 
of feathers and dust, rushing again and again, until 
too tired to do more than brush against each other. 
Then began their most bloody execution, for they 
laid hands upon each other at short range. They 
seized each other by the comb, and chewed and tore 
like bulldogs. 

At last Milton's bird gave way and started on a 
feeble run to escape his pursuer, who kept on with 
his fighting as if he were a clockwork mechanism 
and had not yet run down. And when at last the 
vanquished one had crawled under the barn, the con- 
queror lifted his head in perfectly human exultation 
and sent forth such a crow — so filled with scorn and 
pride — that Milton was a little nettled, and said, 
"Wait till old Hancock gets after you." 

It then remained for Lincoln to take his choice from 
among the flock in Milton's yard, and the two boys re- 
turned home to witness another battle. Mrs. Stewart 
mildly reproved them for their brutality, but they ar- 
gued with her that there was no help for it. If a new 
strain of blood was to be brought into the barn-yard, a 
fight must take place, and so long as it ?iiust take place 
there was no good reason why it should not be wit- 
nessed. To this she could not make convincing reply. 

Another, and less savage diversion of the boys at this 
season of the year, was the hiding of Easter eggs. 



6o Boy Life on the Prairie 

There was no special reason for it, and yet as a custom 
it was quite common among the children of the settlers 
from New York and the Middle States. The avowed 
purpose was to lay up a supply of eggs for Easter Sun- 
day. But as they were always extremely plenty at this 
season of the year, and almost worthless, the motive 
must be sought deeper down. Perhaps it was a survival 
of some old-world superstitions. Anyhow, Lincoln and 
his brother Owen began to hide eggs in all sorts of out of 
the way places for full three weeks before Easter Sunday. 

It was understood by Mr. Stewart that if he could 
discover their hiding-places, the eggs might be confis- 
cated, and he made elaborate pretence of searching for 
them. One of the shrewd ways in which the boys 
made concealment, was by lifting a flake of hay from 
the stack, and making a hole beneath it. Upon letting 
the flake of weather-beaten thatch fall back into place, 
all signs of the nest disappeared. As the hens were lay- 
ing a great many eggs each day, it was very difficult for 
Mrs. Stewart to tell how many the boys were hiding — 
she did not greatly care. 

In his meetings with Milton and Ranee, Lincoln 
compared notes, as to numbers, and together the four 
boys planned their Easter outing. Day after day, Mr. 
Stewart, to the great dread of the boys, went poking 
about close to the very spot where the eggs were hidden, 
and twice he found a small " nest." But this only 
added to the value of those remaining and stimulated 
the boys to yet other and more skilful de\ices in 
concealment. 



The Coming of Spring 



6i 



They were able, in spite of his search, to save up 
several dozens of eggs, which they triumphantly brought 
to light on Easter morning, with gusty shouts of laugh- 
ter over the pretended dismay of their parents. 

With these eggs packed in a pail, with a few biscuits, 
some salt and pepper, Lincoln and Owen started out to 
meet their companions. Ranee and Milton, and together 
they all set forth toward a distant belt of forest in which 
Burr Oak Creek ran. 




There, in the warm spring sun, on the grassy bank 
beside the stream, they built their fire and cooked their 
eggs for their midday meal. Some they boiled, others 
they roasted in the ashes. Ranee caught a chub or two 
from the brook, which added a wild savor to the meal, 
but eggs were considered a necessary order of the day ; 
all else was by the way. 

Something primeval and splendid clustered about this 
unusual camp-fire. Around them were bare trees, with 
buds just beginning to swell. The grass was green only 
in the sunny nooks, but the sky was filled with soft 



62 Boy Life on the Prairie 

white clouds. For guests they had the squirrels and 
the blue jays. It was a celebration of their escape from 
the bonds of winter, and a greeting to spring. There 
was no conscious feeling in this feast, as far as the boys 
were concerned. But the deep-down explanation was 
this, thev had gone back to the worship of Ocstre^ the 
Anglo-Saxon divinity of Spring. They had returned to 
the primitive, to the freedom of the savage, not know- 
ing that the egg was the symbol of regenerate nature. 

As a matter of fact, the flavor of these eggs was not 
good ; the burned shells had a disagreeable odor, and the 
boys would have been very sorry if Mrs. Stewart had 
served up for them anything so disagreeable of flavor. 
But the curl of smoke from the grass with which they 
started the fire, the scream of the jay, the hawk 
sweeping by overhead, the touch of ashes on their 
tongues, the smell of the growing grass, and the sky 
above, made it all wonderful and wild and very sweet. 
When at night they returned, tired and sleepy, to the 
warmly lighted kitchen and to mother, they considered 
the day well spent, uniting as it did the pleasures of 
both civilization and barbarism. 

During these spring days the sunny side of the straw- 
stacks had a vivid charm. There the hens sat to dream 
in the sun, and the cows lay there chewing their cuds. 
The boys spent many of their leisure hours scuffling on 
the straw or lying dormant as the pigs, absorbing the 
heat and light. Next to the chip-pile it was the most 
comfortable resting-place about the farm, between the 
melting of the snow and the coming on of spring. 




SEEDING 



At last one morning Mr. Stewart said : — 

" Well, boys, now we'll get out the drags." And a 
most interesting day followed. The hired man jointed 
the harrows, and Mr. Stewart put the seeder teeth on, 
and scoured up the plough, and made every preparation 
for the spring campaign. 

A few days later, he said : " Well, Lincoln, get out 
into the field to-day, and try it." 

It was still freezing of nights, but by ten o'clock Lin- 
coln was upon the land with the harrow. He found 
the field dry on the swells, but still wet and cold in the 
ravines. He kept at work all the afternoon, in a tenta- 
tive way, retaining the delicious feeling that he could 
really quit at any time, if he wished to do so. This 
thought made the work seem almost like play. He 
unhitched early for supper, and did not go out again. 
The next day it was frozen in the morning, and the 
man finished up the woodpile and raked away the 
refuse in the front yard. Li the afternoon Lincoln got 
out the drag again, as before. On Saturday he worked 
leisurely, nearly all day. Sunday he went to church 

63 



64 



Boy Life on the Prairie 



over at the Grove School-house, and met Ranee and 
Milton and Ben, and they stood around on the sunny 
side of the building and talked of seeding, and boasted 
about how much they had done already. This meeting 
of a Sunday became of verv great value after school was 
out, and the farm work begun. 

On Monday morning Air. Stewart's voice had a 
stern ring as he called in the early dawn : *■'■ All out, 
boys. It is business now." 




No more dallying was allowed, no more tentative 
assaults — the seeding was begun. Mr. Stewart dro\e 
a load of wheat into the field and dispersed the white 
sacks across the land, like fence posts. The hired man 
followed with the broadcast seeder, while Lincoln moved 
into the " south forty " behind the fifty-tooth harrow, with 
mingled feelings of exultation and dismay. 

Around him prairie chickens were whooping, and 
files of geese, with slow, steady flight, swept by at great 
height, wary and weary. Meadow-larks piped pleas- 
antly. Ground sparrows arose from the soil in myriads. 



Seeding 65 

and flung themselves upward into the sky Hke grains of 
wheat from a sower's hand. Theh' chatter came out 
of the air like the voices of spirits invisible and multi- 
tudinous. Prairie pigeons on sounding wing swooped 
over the swells so close to the ground they seemed like 
monstrous serpents. As he struck across the field, the 
sun not far up in the sky was warm and red, but the 
wind was keen. He looked about to see if any of his 
neighbors had beaten him into action. There were no 
signs of Ranee on his right, or Ben on his left. He 
heard the first bang of the seedbox, clear and sharp as 
a morning gun, as the hired man flung the cover shut 
and called ^'•Glang there^ boysT 

Back and forth across the wide field Lincoln moved, 
while the sun crawled up high and higher in the 
sky. It was viciously hard work. His heels sank in 
the soft earth, making the tendons of his heels creak 
and strain. The mud loaded itself upon his boots, till 
he seemed a convict with ball and chain, but he 
dragged himself along doggedly mechanical, like a fly 
stuck in molasses. He was hungry by half-past nine, 
and famished at eleven o'clock. Thereafter the sun 
appeared to stand still. His stomach caved in and his 
knees trembled with weakness, before the white flag 
fluttered from the chamber window, announcing dinner. 
However, he found strength to shout to the hired hand, 
and unhitching with great haste, climbed upon his nigh 
horse, and rode to the barn. 

It was good to go into the kitchen, smelling sweet 
and fine with fresh biscuit and hot coffee. The men 

F 



66 Boy Life on the Prairie 

all ate like dragons, devouring potatoes and salt pork, 
without end, but Mrs. Stewart only mildly remarked, 
" For the land's sake, don't bust yourselves." 

After such a dinner, Lincoln despaired of being able 
to move again. Luckily he had half-an-hour in which 
to get his courage back, and besides, there was the 
stirring power of his father's clarion call. Mr. Stewart 
appeared superhuman to his son. He saw everything, 
seemed never to sleep, and never hesitated. Long 
before the nooning was up, so it seemed, he began to 
shout : — 

" Roll out, boys, roll out ! Business on hand ! " 

Lincoln hobbled to the barn, lame, stiff, and sore. 
The sinews of his legs had shortened and his knees 
were bent like an old man's. Once into the field he 
perceived a subtle change, a mellower charm; the ground 
was warmer, the sky more genial, and the wind more 
amiable, and before he had made his first round his legs 
were limbered up once more. 

The tendency to sit and dream the hours away 
was very great, and he laid his tired body down in the 
tawny sunlit grass at the back of the field, behind 
a hedge of hazel bushes, and gazed up at the beautiful 
clouds sailing by, wishing he had nothing else to do in 
the world. He saw cranes sailing at immense heights, 
so far aloft their cries could be heard only when he held 
his breath. Oh, the beauty and majesty of their life ! 

The wind whispered in the tall weeds, and sighed to 
the hazel bushes. The grass blades touched each other 
in the passing winds, and the gophers, glad of escape 



Seeding 67 

from their dark, underground prisons, whistled their 
cheery greetings to the sun. 

But the far-off voice of his father aroused the boy, 
and taking up the Hnes again, he returned to his toil, 
like some small insect, crawling across the wide brown 
field. His team was made up of two big, powerful 
colts, and he was forced to cross the reins over his 
back, in order to hold them down. He grew weak and 
lame as the sun went behind a cloud and the wind 
became chill, yet he dared not rest. 

The hired man never halted, except to put in seed. 
Lincoln could hear his sharp commands to the team, 
and the noise of the seeder, as he pushed his way from 
one side of the farm to the other. Beyond the fence, 
too far away for even a signal to pass between them, 
he could see Ranee hard at it, like himself, and that 
comforted him a little. 

By five o'clock he was hungry, and not merely tired 
— he was exhausted. The sun was setting dimly at 
the west. The prairie chickens were again in evening 
chorus. The gophers had gone back to their burrows. 
The geese and ducks were flying low, seeking resting- 
places, and the wind was bitter — the piercing chill of 
coming night was in it. The going of the sun seemed 
to put the springtime farther off. Again he unhitched 
his tired horses, and moved slowly toward the house, 
where Owen was pumping water for the cattle, and 
bringing in wood for the kitchen fire. The kitchen 
fire seemed a good thing again and the supper of salt 
pork, mashed potatoes, and tea tasted very good indeed 



68 Boy Life on the Prairie 

after five hours in the field. He could not bring him- 
self to go out after supper so painful were the tendons 
on his heels, but in a few days this soreness passed 
away. 

Some of Mr. Stewart's fields were two miles away, 
and the men did not go home at noon, but ate their cold 
lunch in a clump of hazel bushes, or on the sunny side 
of a " sink-hole," which offered shelter. There was 
a sense of strangeness and wildness in all this to Lin- 
coln, as he lay in the tall, dead grass, hearing the gusty 
winds sweep by like vultures, whose wings wallowed 
the wild oats at furious speed. Sometimes the blast 
was cold and swift and bleak, chilling them all to the 
marrow, making the tender cheeks of the boys red and 
painful. Sometimes the snow came, spiteful and sting- 
ing, and the soil grew wet and sticky again. But the 
clouds were fleeting, for the most part the sun shone, 
and the wind was soft and warm. 

And so, day by day, the boys walked their monoto- 
nous rounds upon the ever mellowing soil. They saw 
the geese pass on to the north, and the green grass come 
into the sunny slopes. They answered the splendid 
challenge of the solitary crane, and watched the ground 
sparrow build her lowly nest. Their muscles grew firm 
and their toil tired them less. Each day the earth grew 
warmer, and the great clouds more summer-like; the 
wild chickens began to mate and seek solitarv homes in 
the grassy swales. The pocket gopher commenced to 
throw up his fresh purple-brown mounds. Larks, blue- 
birds, and king-birds followed the robins, and at last the 



Seeding 



69 



full tide of spring was sweeping northward over the 
prairie, and the final cross-dragging of the well-mellowed 
soil had a charm which almost counterbalanced the 
weary tramp, tramp behind the uncomplaining team. 
Long before the last field was finished, the dust began 
to move on the southern breeze, and the boy, who be- 
gan by wading in the mud, ended by being blackened by 
the dust as he rode the "smoocher." 




During these busy weeks, the boys met each other 
only on Sunday, when Milton and Ranee or Ben came 
to see Lincoln and Owen, or Milton and Ben " called 
round " for Lincoln and stayed for dinner or supper. 
These were pleasant days. Their playing was zestful. 
As soon as the ground would allow it, they took off their 
boots, and the delightful sense of lightness and deftness 
thus gained, led them to turn handsprings and run races, 
clean forgetting their week-day toil in the field. 

At this time some heavy rains came on, and the " runs " 



yo Boy Life on the Prairie 

or ravines filled with rushing torrents of water, which 
added dignity and strangeness to the quiet prairie, and 
the boys spent a day wandering up and down the banks 
of Prairie Run, studying the wreckage in the boihng 
water, and hstening to its roar. The current was so 
swift it swept away bridges, and cattle and pigs, whose 
bodies, floating in the eddies, added a sinister quality to 
the flood. 

After a Sunday of riding about on their ponies, with 
their friends, the boys found it very hard to return to the 
stern toil of Monday morning. The world always 
seemed a little darker at sunset on Sunday night than 
on Saturday night. The week ahead of them seemed 
hopelessly long and profitless, and when they answered 
the imperious " reveille " of their father's " Roll out, 
boys, roll out ! " it was but feebly and gloomily. 

On the new land it was no light job to run the har- 
row. The roots of the hazel brush clogged the teeth, 
and it was necessary to lift it often, and this was hard 
work for boys of ten and twelve. It was necessary, 
also, to guide the horses constantly, to see that they 
" lapped half," and sometimes the dust blew so thickly 
that not only were the boys coated with it, but their 
eyes were blinded by it, and the tears of rage and rebel- 
lion they shed stained their cheeks with comic lines. 
At such times it seemed hard to be a prairie farmer's 
son. 

Once Lincoln was tempted into giving chase to a big 
gray gopher, and the sound of his whip startled the 
spirited team, and they ran away across the field, each 



Seeding yi 

moment wilder, till at last one horse fell, and the other 
flung the overturned harrow upon his mate mangling 
him so that it was necessary to kill him. This was the 
most tragic event of Lincoln's life up to this time, and 
fairly stunned him with remorse, for he loved the colt 
and considered him one of the most wonderful creatures 
in the world. 

He helped the hired man bury him, and when he 
threw the first shovelful of earth on the grand body, his 
throat ached and tears streamed down his cheeks. The 
hired man respected the boy's grief, and did not joke. 
Mr. Stewart remained stern and accusing for many days, 
but did not refer to the tragedy, which darkened the 
boy's life for many days. 

One day as he went to the field he scared a great 
black bird from the spot where the colt was buried. It 
was the prairie vulture or " turkey-buzzard." With 
three flaps of his enormous wings he mounted the air, 
and then without an observable flutter of a feather he 
looped and circled and rose, calmly, easefully, until he 
mingled with the clouds and passed from sight. Not 
even his grewsome reputation could lessen the majesty 
of his flight, and Lincoln stood long wondering how he 
could make the wind his servant and the cloud his 
brother. Not even the crane could overtop this 
demon of the air. 




THE VULTURE OF THE PLAINS 

He wings a slow and watchful flio;ht, 
His neck is bare, his eves are bright, 
His plumage fits the starless night. 

He sits at feast where cattle lie 

Withering in ashen alkali, 

And gorges till he scarce can fly. 

But he is kingly on the breeze ! 

On rigid wing in royal ease 

A soundless bark on vicvvdess seas, 

Piercing the purple storm-cloud — he makes 

The sun his neighbor, and shakes 

His wrinkled neck in mock dismay. 

Swinging his slow contemptuous way 

Above the hot red lightning's plav : — 

Monarch of cloudland — yet a ghoul at prey. 
72 



THE HERALD CRANE 

Ah ! Say you so, bold sailor, 

In the sunlit deeps of sky. 

Dost thou so soon the seed-time tell 

In thy imperial cry. 

As circling in yon shoreless sea 

Thine unseen form goes drifting by ? 

I cannot trace in the noonday glare 

Thy regal flight, O Crane ; 

From the leaping might of the fiery light 

Mine eyes recoil in pain. 

But on mine ear thine echoing cry 

Falls like a bugle strain. 

The mellow soil glows beneath my feet, 
Where lies the buried grain ; 
The warm light floods the length and breadth 
Of the vast, dim, shimmering plain. 
Throbbing with heat and the nameless thrill 
Of the birth time's restless pain. 

On weary wing plebeian geese 

Push on their arrowy line 

Straight into the north, and snowy brant. 

In dazzling sunlight, gloom, and shine. 

73 



74 Boy Life on the Prairie 

But thou, O Crane, at thy far height, 
On proud extended wings sweepst on 
In silent, easeful flight. 

Then cry, thou martial-throated herald ! 

Cry to the sun, and sweep 

And swing along thy mateless course 

Above the clouds that sleep 

On lazy wind — cry on! Send down 

Thy trumpet note; it seems 

The voice of hope and dauntless will, 

And breaks the spell of dreams. 




CHAPTER VII 

PLANTING CORN 

The preparation for the corn planting followed imme- 
diately upon the cross-dragging of the wheat-field. The 
ground set apart for this crop had been ploughed in the 
fall, but it was necessary to cultivate it with the seeder 
and harrow, till it became smooth and tillable as a 
garden-patch. 

At this time the earliest sown wheat-field was a lovely 
green, tender and translucent. The meadows rang with 
melody. The geese and loons had all passed over to the 
lakes of the north, but the crane still made the sky ring 
with his majestic note. Hardly a day passed but one of 
these inspiring birds called from the fathomless depths of 
the sky. The morning symphony of prairie chickens 
had begun to die away. The popple groves were deli- 
ciously green, and their round leaves were beffinnino- to 

to 

quiver in the wind. The oak's brown branches had 
taken on delicate pinks and browns, as the tender buds 
slowly unfolded, and though not yet quite as " large as a 
squirrel's ear," Farmer Stewart considered it quite time 
to plant his corn. 

75 



76 Boy Life on the Prairie 

This was the 3d of May, and formed one of the most 
joyous experiences of the year. The field's broad acres 
lay out beautifully smooth and brown and warm after 
the final crossing of the harrow. Mr. Stewart rode 
cross it with the " marker " (a contrivance resembling a 
four-runnered sleigh), leaving the mellow soil lined with 
little furrows about four feet apart. The earth was now 
ready for the seed, for it was the custom of the best 
farmers to wait and mark it the other way, just ahead of 
the droppers, in order that the grain should fall into 
moist earth. 

In those davs the corn was still planted by hand and 
covered with a hoe. Lincoln, who had been helping to 
make the garden, to rake up the yard, to clip vines, and 
to set onions, was tired of " puttering," and eager to 
drop corn. " You'll have enough of it before Saturday 
night," said his father. Mr. Stewart was a lover of corn, 
and had set aside a larger field than any of his neighbors. 

Early on a fine May morning, Lincoln made one of a 
crew, starting for the field. He was accompanied by 
Milton, Owen, Mr. Stewart, Neighbor Jennings, and 
Jack, the hired man. Mr. Jennings was "changing 
works " ; that is, he was helping Mr. Stewart, with the 
understanding that he would be paid in kind. His soil 
was a little " colder " and was not quite ready. 

Mr. Stewart drove the " marker," followed by Milton 
and Lincoln, who dropped the seed, while iMr. Jennings 
and Jack, with light, shapely, flashing, steel hoes, fol- 
lowed, to cover it. Owen was commissioned to plant 
pumpkin-seeds, which he considered a high honor for the 



Planting Corn 77 

first half-hour, and a burden, grievous to be borne, there- 
after. 

The " marker," as it passed over the field, crossed the 
lines running the other wav, thus producing checks or 
squares about three feet and nine inches each way. At the 
intersection of these markings the seeds were dropped 
and covered. The field, mellow as a garden, lay palpi- 
tating under the sun ; the air was so still that the voices 
of the girls on the Hutchison farm could be heard in 
laughter. Ben's sisters were dropping corn over there, 
and Jack said, " By Mighty ! for a cent I'd quit and go 
work over there m'self." 

The first thing Lincoln did was to pull off his boots, 
in order not to miss the delicious feeling of the warm 
soil, as the tender soles of his feet sank into it, bur- 
rowing like some wild thing lately returned to its 
native element. He wore one of his mother's old calico 
aprons tied round his waist, with a big knot in the slack 
of it, to make a pouch capable of carrying several quarts 
of corn. Having filled this with seed, he was ready to 
take his place in one of the rows. 

Now, the rule was to drop three or four kernels (no 
more and no less) in each intersection of the grooves. 
The sharp eyes of those who followed were certain to 
detect any mistake, though if you were a pretty girl, the 
men with the hoes would say nothing about your blun- 
ders. After Lincoln got the swing of it, he planted his 
left foot each time close to the crossing, and dropped 
the seeds just before his toes, fearing not the swift, 
steady stroke of the hoes behind. The soil was so fria- 



yS Boy Life on the Prairie 

ble, and the hoes so light and keen, a single clip covered 
each hill, and the skilful hoemen pressed the droppers 
hard. The gait was a steady walk, and the dull ring of 
the steel at each bov's naked heel was like the tick of a 
clock, and an ever present incentive to speed and regu- 
larity. In a short time Lincoln became so skilful he 
could not only keep up his own row, but help Milton 
occasionally when he fell behind. 

It was hard work ; on this the bovs were agreed. It 
made their necks ache, and stiffened their backs, espe- 
cially as the day grew windy, and they were obliged to 
stoop to the hills. By the time they had gone the whole 
way across the wide field they were very glad to take a 
look at the sky, and at the end of each round they con- 
sumed a great deal of time in filling their pouches. As the 
forenoon wore away, the sun grew warmer, and Mr. 
Stewart, looking out over the fine, level wheat-field, 
getting greener each hour, said, in a voice solemn 
with veneration, " I just believe I can hear that wheat 
grow." 

Notwithstanding, the work, these days of planting 
corn, had a distinct and mellow charm, filled as they 
were with superb dawns and warm, sensuous, slumbrous 
noons. Nisht came after most gorgeously colored and 
silent sunsets, when the orange light flamed across a sea 
of tender, springing wheat, and a rising mist was in the 
air. The diminishing chorus of the prairie chickens 
rang, in mournful, quavering chorus, through the haze, 
the joy of spring quite lost out of it, but the frogs in the 
marsh took up and carried forward the theme, as night 



Planting Corn 79 

slowly fell and the bird-voices slowly died away. Spring 
was merging into sultry summer. 

Corn-planting practically finished the spring work, 
and there came a welcome breathing-spell for the boys 
and the teams. The horses, so shining and plump a 
few weeks before, were gaunt and worn. The men, 
also, felt a vast relief; for all through April, from early 
morning till late at night, they had tramped ceaselessly 
to and fro across the field. They were glad of the 
chance to break the wild sod and to build fences. 

In a few days, with four horses hitched to a sixteen- 
inch breaking-plough, the hired man went forth to slit 
the smooth green sod into strips. 

Lincoln sadly watched the tender grass and the spring- 
ing flowers as they rolled beneath the remorseless mould- 
board, but there was also a deep pleasure in seeing the 
smooth, shining, almost unbroken ribbon of black soil 
tuck itself into the furrow, behind the growling share. 
Around them, on the swells, gophers whistled, and the 
nesting plover quaveringly called. The blackbirds 
clucked in the furrow, and gray-bearded badgers 
watched, with jealous eye, the ploughman's steady 
progress toward ' his knoll. The weather was perfect 
May. Big fleecy clouds sailed from west to east, and 
the wind was soft and kind. 

It required a man to hold the big breaking-plough, as 
it went ripping and tearing through the groves of hazel 
brush, and sometimes Mr. Stewart was called to sit on 
the plough-beam, to hold it to its work, while Jack 
braced himself to the handles. And so, one by one. 



8o Boy Life on the Prairie 

the " tow-heads " yielded to the axe and the plough. 
The boys helped to pile and burn the brush, which the 
men cut with a short, heavy scythe. This was pleasant 
business for a little while, but came at last to be a pun- 
ishment and imprisonment, like all other toil. Every 
change of work brought joy, like a release from prison. 
From the seeding, corn-planting seemed very desirable ; 
but when the hoes had clicked behind their heels for a 
couple of days the boys longed for breaking or fence- 
building. Burning brush seemed glorious sport until 
they had tried it, and found it \erv hot and disagreeable, 
after all. The fact is, they considered any continuous 
labor an infringement of their right to liberty and the 
pursuit of knowledge. 

Fence-building suited Lincoln very well. Mr. Stew- 
art went ahead, starting the holes with a crowbar. After 
him Lincoln drove a team containing sharpened posts 
and a barrel of water. The holes were filled with water 
to soften the ground, and then, the post being dropped 
therein and properly lined up, Da\id McTurg swung 
the great iron beetle high in the air and brought it 
down upon the squared timber with a loud " hoh ! " 
which the boys considered indispensable to powerful 
effort. There was somethino- laro-e and fine in his 
wide swing of the maul, and Lincoln looked forward 
eagerly to the time when he should be able to set a 
post three inches into the ground with every clip. As 
it was, he had nothing to do but drive the team, which 
pleased him very well. 

But this, after all, was only a diversion. The work 



Planting Corn 8i 

of clearing and breaking the sod on the new land, and 
the daily care of the springing corn, were of first im- 
portance. They all returned to breaking sod and clear- 
ing away brush after a few days of fence-building. 

One day as he was helping his father pile brush, 
Lincoln stopped to examine a blossoming strawberry 
vine. His fingers were almost touching it when he 
caught the glitter of a small, metallic eye, and dis- 
covered the severed head of a rattlesnake lying just 
under the white flower. He sprang back with a sud- 
den cry of fear, which brought his father to the spot. 
Together they examined the reptile. 

It was a " Massasauga " or meadow rattlesnake. The 
scythe had clipped his head and about four inches of 
neck from his body, and he lay sullenly quiet, with 
his little black, forked tongue playing in and out of 
his mouth. As Mr. Stewart presented a piece of 
popple bark, the head opened its mouth wide and flat 
and struck its fine, curving fangs into it. Immediately 
a light-green liquid collected and began to creep up 
the inner side of the bark, and Lincoln shuddered to 
think how powerful that minute drop of poison was. 

He had been accustomed to rattlesnakes all his life. 
On the wooded hills of Wisconsin, in the limestone 
country, the big black-and-yellow Crotalus horr'idus was 
common. In the spring, when the suns of early April 
began to warm the rocks on southward-sloping bluffs, 
they came out to lie in the sun and breed before start- 
ing downward into the fields and meadows below. 
Nothing can be more sinister than a knot of these 

G 



82 Boy Life on the Prairie 

terrible creatures, — a mass of twisting, shining bodies, 
from which the flat heads protrude like tassels, instinct 
with hatred and defiance, deadly as lightning and as 
swift. In autumn they returned to their dens in the 
seams of the clifts. 

Lincoln, when not more than eight years of age, 
used to go with his uncles hunting these breeding- 
places ; and he had often seen them whip with long poles 
these masses of rattling monsters into bloody shreds, 
and he had seen the more agile of them slide away 
beneath the rocks silent as golden oil. He had hap- 
pened upon them beside his path ; his ear was ac- 
quainted with their ringing, rattling, buzzing, singing 
menace. Once a great, thick, sullen fellow was killed 
in his father's barn-yard, after he had scared the chickens 
into a frenzy by his mere presence. One of the men 
put the wounded snake near a hen with chickens, and 
it seemed she would go crazy with fear. She seemed 
to know by instinct his dread power. 

The boys had often seen them cut in pieces by the 
mowing-machine, and in the harvest-field once a big 
one dropped from the sheaf David McTurg was bind- 
ing. The boys knew them well and did not greatly 
fear them. In fact, Lincoln used to hunt the cows 
on the hills in Wisconsin barefooted and alone with 
less fear of the snakes than of purely imaginary bears 
and wolves. When he first heard of the " Massasau- 
gas " in Rock County, therefore, he was curious rather 
than alarmed, and his parents were correspondingly 
undisturbed. These small gray fellows had the eft<?ct 



Planting Corn 83 

of being mild imitations after a long experience with 
the yellow monsters of the lichen-spotted limestone 
clifFs of their old home. They were smaller, more 
sluggish, and presumably less poisonous, though every 
herd of cattle had one or more invalids with jaw swol- 
len to enormous size to testify to the terrible power of 
the virus even of these prairie cousins of the Horridm 
family. 

Moreover, there was less liability of ambush in the 
prairie country, and the breaking ploughs were a remorse- 
less agency in destroying the gray pests. Hardly a day 
passed without Jack's triumphant exhibition of several 
new bunches of rattles, and the men used to compare 
notes on Sunday as they sat around the horse-block at 
church, and boast of the number they had killed. 

One of the neighbors who took dinner with Mr. 
Stewart about this time horrified the mother by declar- 
ing that he had killed three hundred Massasaugas on his 
place alone. " We don't mind 'em," said he, " any 
more'n so many garter-snakes. You jest want to 
mind where you step, and where you put your bare 
hand ; that's all." 

Nevertheless the boys never came upon that cold 
gray coil and lifted, steady, poised triangular head and 
blurring tail, without feeling that a deadly weapon was 
aimed and remorselessly ready to take a life. 



THE STRIPED GOPHER 

He is a roguish little wag ; 
He sits like priest with folded hands ; 
The farm-boy stops his dusty drag, 
And mocks his whistle where he stands. 

The crane in deeps of sunlit sky 
Proclaims the spring with bugle-note — 
Not less the prophecies which lie 
Within the gopher's cheery note. 

From radiant slopes of pink and green, 
From warm brown fields, his greetings fret j 
The eye of hawk is not more keen 
Than his when danger seems to threat. 

He is a cunning little wag; 
He sits and jeers with folded hands ; 
The farm-bov stoops behind his drag, 
And fliuiis a missile where he stands. 




^ 



.,i^^^r* ■./-/■:;:-- v.;-'''^i^ 



84 



CHAPTER VIII 



SNARING GOPHERS 



After the corn was planted, the younger lads were 
set to work snaring and shooting the gophers from the 
corn-fields. The prairie abounded at this time with two 
sorts of ground squirrel, which the settlers called " the 
striped gopher " and " the gray gopher." The striped 
gopher resembled a large chipmunk, and the gray gopher 
was apparently a squirrel that had taken to the fields. 
The " pocket gopher " was considered a sort of mole or 
rat and not really a gopher. 

The survival of the fittest had brought about a beauti- 
ful adaptation to environment in both cases. The small 
one had become so delicately striped in brown and 
yellow, as to be well-nigh invisible in the short grass of 
the upland, while the gray gopher, living in and about 
the nooks and corners of the fields, which held over 
from year to year long tufts of gray and weather-beaten 
grass, fitted quite as closely to his background, his yellow- 
gray coat aiding him in his efforts to escape the eyes of 
the hawk and the wolf. 

The little striped rogues absolutely swarmed in the 
wild sod immediately adjoining the new-broken fields, 
and were a great pest, for they developed a most annoy- 
ing cleverness in finding and digging up the newly 

85 



86 Boy Life on the Prairie 

planted corn. In some subtle way they had learned that 
wherever two deep paths crossed, with a little mound 
of dirt in the centre, there sweet food was to be had, 
and it was no uncommon thing to find a long row of 
sprouting kernels dug up in this manner, with most un- 
erring precision. 

It was clearly a case of inherited aptitude, for their 
cousins, far out on the prairie, were by no means so 
shrewd. Dwelling within the neighborhood of man for 
a few generations had been valuable. Inherited apti- 
tude was plainly superimposed upon native shrewdness. 
They were a positive plague, and it became painfully 
necessary to wipe them out or give up the corn. It 
was the business of every boy in the neighborhood to 
wage remorseless war upon them each day in the week, 
from the time the corn was planted until it had grown 
too big to be uprooted. 

So Lincoln carried a shot-gun about the field with 
which to slay these graceful little creatures, while Owen 
followed behind to cut off their tails as trophies. They 
were allowed two cents bounty (from their father) for 
every striped gopher, and three cents apiece for every 
gray gopher they killed. They generally made two 
rounds each day. They soon discovered that the little 
rascals were most likely to be out at about ten o'clock 
of each warm forenoon, and once again between four 
and five. 

The boys went to this task with pleasure, but there 
was something aesthetic mingled with the delight of suc- 
cessful shooting. Like the angler or hunter, they en- 



Snaring Gophers 87 

joyed the vivid sunlight, the fresh winds, the warm 
earth, and especially the freedom of the hunter. Oc- 
casionally as Lincoln looked down at a poor bleeding 
little gopher at the door of his house, he suffered a keen 
twinge of remorse, and reproved himself for cruelty. 
However, it seemed the only way out, so he hardened 
himself and went on with his desolating work. He was 
too small to hold the gun at arm's length, but rested it 
on his knee or on a small stick which Owen consented 
to carry. 

It was, after all, sad business, and often the tender, 
springing grass, the far-away faint and changing purple 
of the woods, the shimmer of the swelling prairie, leap- 
ing toward the flaming sun — all the inexpressible glow 
and pulse of blooming spring — witched him from his 
warfare. He lay prone on his back while the gophers 
whistled and dashed about in play, watching the hawks 
dipping and wheeling in the shimmering air, and listen- 
ing to the quavering, wailing cry of the plovers as they 
settled to the earth with uplifted pointed wings. The 
twitter of innumerable ground sparrows passing over- 
head united with the sweet and thrilling signals of the 
meadow-lark, to complete the wondrous charm of the 
morning air. 

Killing gophers was like fishing, — an excuse for en- 
joying the prairie. Often on Sunday mornings, together 
with Milton and Ranee, Owen and Lincoln sallied 
forth, armed with long pieces of stout twine to snare 
the little pests, for they were not allowed to fire a gun 
on Sunday. They became very expert in this business. 



88 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Having driven a gopher to his burrow, they took a 
little turn on the sod, in order to drag their strings taut. 
Then, slipping the noose well down into the hole, they 
retired to the end of the string to wait for the little fel- 
low to pop his head through the noose, which he usually 
did after some moments of perfect silence. It is their 
habit to come suddenly and silently to the top of their 
burrows, and to cautiously and slowly lift their heads 
until they can fix an eye on you. You must be keen- 
eyed, or you will fail to observe the small head, which is 
almost exactly the color of the surrounding grass. If 
you glance away from the burrow even for a moment, 
you may fail to find it when you look back. 

For they are not only exceedingly shrewd, but they 
are rare ventriloquists. After sitting a couple of min- 
utes and seeing nothing, you may hear a low, sweet trill, 
like that of a sleepy bird. You cannot place it — it 
seems to be in the air one moment and behind you the 
next moment. The crafty rascal has come up at some 
other hole and is laughing at you. 

You turn your head, '-'- cheep-eep" — a slight movement 
and he is gone. You adjust your snare at the new bur- 
row and again sit patiently and as still as stone for four 
or five minutes, perhaps ten, before you hear again that 
sly, sleepy trill. It sounds back of you, at first, then in 
front, and at last, by studying every inch of the ground 
before you, you detect a bright eye gleaming upon you 
from the burrow where your snare had been set at first. 
You now understand that you arc dealing with "an old 
residentcr," not a young and foolish child. 



Snaring Gophers 89 

Owen often strup-trled for hours to snare one of these 
cunning old tricksters. He was accustomed to lie flat on 
his belly, with his feet waving in the air like small banners, 
his eyes fixed upon the hole, with fingers ready to twitch 
the string, but he generally grew impatient and looked 
away or moved, and so lost his chance. It required even 
greater patience and skill to succeed in snaring the gray 
gopher, who was capable of breaking the string when 
caught. 

However, snaring was only part of the fun. When 
they grew tired of killing things, they could lay out full 
length on the warm, bright green sod, and listen to the 
softened sounds of the prairie, seeing the girls picking 
"goslins" on the sunny slopes, enjoying in sensuous 
drowse the clouds, the sun, and the earth, content, like 
the lambs or like Rover, to be left in peace in the down- 
pour of spring sunshine. There was no grass for the wan- 
dering wind to wave, no trees to rustle, nothing to break 
the infinite peace which brooded over the wide prairie. 

They felt, at such moments, some such pleasure as 
that the fisherman knows, when dropping his rod among 
the ferns he watches the soaring eagle high in the air, or 
listens to the ripple of the restless stream. 

But neither the snare nor the shot-gun sufficed to keep 
these bright-eyed little people from eating up the seed, 
and Mr. Stewart went to the great length of scattering 
poisoned grains of corn about the field. This seemed 
to Lincoln a repulsive and terrible thing to do, but the 
father argued, " The poor beasties must give way, or 
you'll have no Johnny cake for your milk." 



90 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The boys soon had a box partly filled with gray 
gophers, which they tried hard to tame. It was supposed 
that the gray gopher, like the squirrel, could be made a 
household pet, but as a matter of fact thev were particu- 
larly savage and untamable. They not only fought 
their captors, but they fought each other with unrelent- 
ing ferocity. There was something hard and stern, 
something pitiless and threatening, in their eyes. They 
invariably gnawed a hole through the box and escaped 
long before they showed the slightest affection for the 
boys, though they fed them on bread and milk and the 
choicest grains of corn. 

One day Jack brought home a half-grown badger, 
and the boys were at once wildly excited by his 
snarling and hissing. He was ready to do battle at any 
moment ; and though Owen put him in a box and fed 
him fat gophers and milk, and all kinds of good things, 
he never grew much tamer. Lincoln, as a piece of 
daring, sometimes stroked his flat, pointed head, but 
always at risk of having his fingers snapped off. He 
had a bad smell, also, and at last they grew tired of him, 
and turned him out again, on the sod. He waddled 
away flat in the grass, eagerly, swiftly. They followed 
him until he burrowed into a ridge and hid himself from 
sight, and never again attempted to tame one of his 
kind. 

It was impossible not to have business with skunks, 
for they were thick. They were a greater terror to the 
boys than rattlesnakes; for aside from their nauseating 
odor, they were said to destroy the eyes of men by 



Snaring Gophers 



91 



means of their terrible discharge. Nearly every dog of 
the neighborhood smelled of them, and they often got 
under the houses and barns, and rioted on good things, 
for no one cared to kill them there. 

Lincoln, being instructed by Ranee, set traps with long 
ropes attached, and by gently hauling them at long 
range, was able to get them far out on the prairie with- 
out disaster. Their discharge was clearly only a last 
resort, and so long as they were unharmed they were 
themselves harmless. They were really pretty creatures, 
especially the young ones, and Lincoln considered it a 
pity that they should smell so horribly strong. 




THE AdEADOW-LARK 

A BRAVE little bird that fears not God, 

A voice that breaks from a snow-wet clod, 

With prophecy of sunny sod 

Set thick with wind-waved goldenrod. 

From the first bare earth in the raw, cold spring. 
From the grim, gray turf when fall-winds sting. 
The ploughboy hears his clear song ring. 
And work for the time is a pleasant thing. 



PRAIRIE FIRES 

A CURVING, leaping line of light, 
A crackling roar from lurid lungs, 
A wild flush on the skies of night — 
A force that gnaws with hot red tongues 
And leaves a blackened, smoking sod, 
A fiery furnace where the cattle trod. 
92 








^j^-^a^}^^-" 



;--;?«=;■ 



CHAPTER IX 



SUMMER-TIME. 



HERDING THE CATTLE 



At the time Duncan Stewart moved out upon Sun 
Prairie, wide tracts of unbroken sod still lay open for 
common grazing-ground, and every farmer kept from 
twenty-five to a hundred head of cattle and horses. As 
soon as the grass began to spring from the fire-blackened 
sod in April, the cattle left the straw-piles (under whose 
lee they had fed during the winter), and crawled out 
to forage on the open. They were still " free com- 
moners " in the eyes of the law. 

The colts were a fuzzy, ugly-looking lot at this time ; 
even those who were well fed had long hair, and their 
manes were dirty and tangled, but as the grazing im- 
proved, and the warmth and plenty of spring filled them 
with new blood, they sloughed ofF their mangy coats of 
hair, and lifted their wide-blown nostrils to the western 
wind in glorious freedom. Many of them had never felt 
the weight of a man's hand, and even those that had 
wintered in and around the barn-yard lost all trace of 
domesticity after a few days' life on the springing grass. 
It was not unusual to find that the wildest and wariest 
of all the herd bore a collar mark or some other inef- 
faceable badge of previous servitude. 

93 



94 Boy Life on the Prairie 

They were for the most part Morgan grades or 
" Canuck," with a strain of broncho to give them fire. 
It was curious, it was splendid, to see how the old, 
deep-buried instincts broke out in these halterless herds. 
In a few days, after many trials of speed and power, the 
bands of all the region united into one drove, and a 
leader, the swiftest and most tireless of them all, ap- 
peared from the ranks and led them at will. Otten 
without apparent cause, merely for the joy ot it, they 
left their feeding-grounds to wheel and charge and race 
for hours over the swells, across the creeks, and through 
the hazel thickets. Sometimes their movements arose 
from the stinging of gadflies, sometimes from a battle 
between two jealous leaders, sometimes from the pass- 
ing of a wolf — often from no cause at all other than 
bounding vitality. 

In much the same way, but less rapidlv, the cattle 
went forth upon the plain. Each family herd not only 
contained the growing steers, but the family cows, and 
it was the duty of one boy from each family to mount 
a horse every afternoon and " hunt the cattle," a task 
he seldom shirked. Lincoln and Owen took turn and 
turn about at this, and thev soon knew the sound of 
every bell. They seldom failed of discovering the herd 
at once. The cows were then cut out and driven back 
to the farm-yard to be milked. In this way every lad 
in the neighborhood could ride like a Comanche. Mr. 
Stewart turned over to Lincoln a little Morgan horse 
called " Ivanhoe," and cattle-herding became part of 
his business durino- the summer. Owen soon had a 



Herding the Cattle 95 

pony of his own. They lived in the saddle when no 
other duties called them. Ranee and Lincoln met al- 
most every day on the feeding-grounds, and the world 
seemed a very good place for a boy, as they galloped 
along together. 

In this way Lincoln came to know the prairies, which 
was then very beautiful, and all its life. On the up- 
lands a short, light-green, hair-like grass grew, inter- 
mixed with various resinous weeds, while the lowlands 
produced a luxuriant growth of bluejoint, wild oats, 
and other large grasses. Along the streams and in the 
" sloos," cattails rose from thick mats of wide-bladed 
marsh-grass. Almost without realizing it, the boys 
came to know every weed, every curious flower, every 
living thing big enough to be seen from the back of a 
horse. They enjoyed it all, too, without so much as 
calling it beautiful. 

Nothing could be more generous, more joyous, than 
these natural meadows in June. The flash and ripple 
and glimmer of the tall, wide-bodied grass, the myriad 
voices of ecstatic bobolinks, the chirp and whistle of 
red-winged blackbirds swaying on the reeds or in the 
willows, the meadow-larks piping from grassy bogs, and 
the swift snipe and wailing plover adding their voices as 
they rose and fell on the flowery green slopes of the 
uplands. It was a big land, and a big, big sky to Lin- 
coln, who had been born in a coolly home, and he had 
withal a sense of the still wilder country to the west. 

Sometimes of a Sunday afternoon, as he wandered deep 
in these meadows with Bettie and Milton and Cora, 



96 



Boy Life on the Prairie 



gathering bouquets of pinks, sweet-williams, tiger-lilies, 
and lady-slippers, he had a vague perception of another 
and sweeter side of this landscape, though it did not re- 
main with him long. The sun flamed across the splen- 
did, moving, flashing deeps of the grasses, the perfumes 
of a thousand nameless plants rose in the warm middav 
air, and the mere joy of living filled his heart to the ex- 
clusion of any other desire. 




T'v'V^ 










//// 



A 



Nor was the upland less interesting as thev roamed 
over it, far and wide, on their horses. In the spring the 
huge antlers, bleached white and bare, in countless num- 
bers, on the bare-burnt sod, told of the millions ot elk 
and bison that had once roamed on these splendid pas- 
tures, in the days when the tall Sioux were the only 
hunters. 

The gray hermit, the badger, made his home in deep 
dens on the long ridges, and on sunny April days the 
mother fox lay out with her \oung, on southward-sloping 



Herding the Cattle 97 

swells. The swift prairie wolf slunk, with backward- 
glancing eyes, from copse to copse, and many a mad 
race the boys had at the tail of this swift and tireless 
"spectre of the plains." They seldom did him any harm, 
but it brought out the speed of their ponies and broke 
the monotony of the herding. Antelope and deer were 
still occasionally seen, and to Lincoln it seerrted that just 
over the next ridge toward the sunset, the shaggy brown 
bulls still fed in thousands, and in his heart he vowed 
sometime to ride away over there and see. All the boys 
he knew — all the young men talked of "the west," never 
of the east ; always of the plains, of the mountains and 
cattle-raising and mining and Indians, and Lincoln could 
not but be influenced by this spirit. 

Scattered over the clay lands were small groves or 
clumps of popple trees, called " tow-heads " by the set- 
tlers. They were commonly only two or three hundred 
feet in diameter, though in some cases they grow along 
a ridge many acres in extent. Around these islands, 
seas of hazel brush rolled, interspersed with lagoons of 
bluejoint-grass, that most beautiful and stately product 
of prairie soil. On the Maple River there were plum 
trees and crab-apples and haws and many good things, 
while the prairie produced immense crops of hazelnuts 
and strawberries. 

Over these uplands, through these lakes of hazel brush, 
and round these coverts of popple, Lincoln and Ranee, 
Owen and Milton and Ben and Bert, careered, chasing 
the rabbits, hunting the cows, killing rattlesnakes, racing 
the half-wild colts and the prowling wolves. It was an 

H 



98 



Boy Life on the Prairie 



alluring life for a bov. Ranee, tall, reliant, graceful, and 
strong almost as a man, was a product of this life. He 
had a magnificent colt named " Ladrone," and rode him 
as no other boy in the whole country could do. He 
used the cowboy saddle, with a high pommel, while 
Lincoln and Milton rode army saddles without pommels. 
They all carried short-handled drover's whips, which re- 
quired considerable skill to manage, for the lash was long 
and heavy and sure to wind around the neck of an 




awkward lad. Lincoln was soon exceedingly expert 
with this whip, but Ranee remained the best rider. 

Ranee was in the saddle most of the time, but Lincoln 
continued to take a man's place with a team in times 
when work pressed. Captain Knapp was one of the 
" best fixed " of all the farmers near. He had a frame 
barn and a house with a parlor. He had also two grown- 
up daughters, of whom Lincoln stood very much in awe. 
Thev were the belles of the country, tall pale girls with 
velvet-black eyes, very graceful of manner, and always 
neat and pretty, even on wash days. 

Ranee was the only son and was the pride of his father, 



Herding the Cattle 99 

a reticent and singular man, who had more books and 
newspapers than any other farmer in Sun Prairie. He 
was tall and a little bent, with a long brown beard ; it 
was plain that Ranee took his reticence and his black 
eyes from his father. Mrs. Knapp had been dead sev- 
eral years when Lincoln came to know the family, but 
everybody said Ranee had the fair skin of his mother. 
He was not a notably studious boy. He loved the 
prairies and his horse " Ladrone " too much to remain in 
the house reading. He was a good scholar, always near 
the head of his class, but he had a contempt for those 
who could not leap, ride a horse, swing a cattle whip, 
and play ball. With heel behind the cantle of his saddle, 
and right hand sweeping the grass, he could pick up his 
hat or whip as his horse galloped past. Captain Knapp 
had been to California in the days of gold, and from him 
Ranee had acquired a knowledge of the wonderful horse- 
manship of the Mexican vaqueros. He could throw a 
lasso, and ride backward on his horse, or standing in the 
saddle. Captain Knapp had been a cavalryman under Kil- 
patrick, and also taught his son to ride in army fashion. 
As a result he and Lincoln carried themselves half in the 
cowboy manner and half as the cavalryman sits. 

They held the reins in the left hand, guiding their 
horse by the pressure of the rein on his neck, rather 
than by pulling at the bit. The right hand carried the 
whip ; when not in use it dropped to the thigh, cavalry 
fashion. They rode with knees straight — sitting low 
in their saddles. Their horses were never allowed to 
trot, but were taught a gait which they called the 



lOO Boy Life on the Prairie 

" lope," which was a canter in front and a trot behind, 
a very good gait for long distances, and each horse was 
taught to keep it without the pressure of the rein, and 
to fall at the word into a swift walk. 

For the first year Lincoln was Ranee's pupil. 
Everything his hero did was fine and noble, and in 
truth Ranee was a good boy. Though passionate and 
wilful, he was clean-spoken and naturally high-minded 
and honorable. He seldom joked (he left all that to 
Milton), and he was exceedingly sensitive to ridicule. 
He never quarrelled, never abused smaller boys, and yet 
he seldom showed a favor. Young as he was, the big 
boys were afraid to press him too far. 

Milton could ride fairly well, but could not play ball 
and did not enjoy any game with running in it. The 
truth was, Milton was lazy. More than this, he had 
a sneaking fondness for girls, and Lincoln once caught 
him knitting. Only his love of horses and his fairly 
good horsemanship saved Milton from being called 
" a girl-boy." 

All the boys but Ranee had to milk cows, which was 
a peculiarly hateful task in summer, when the flies 
were bad, and worse in autumn, when the cold rains 
came on. It made their hands ache, and the cows' 
steaming hot sides were unpleasant to the touch, and 
they were liable at any moment to kick into the pail, 
in their efforts to drive off the flies. The boys had 
a trick of driving their heads hard in the cow's flank, 
so she could not bring forward her leg at all. The 
heavy tail was also a nuisance, and was tied by the long 



Herding the Cattle 



lOl 



hairs around the cow's own leg. Humbolt Bunn tied 
it to the strap of his boot — and regretted it very much 
afterwards. 

As the weather grew cold, the boys had a trick of 
urging the sleeping cows to their hoofs very gently, in 
order that their own bare feet might rest on the ground 
which the cows had warmed during the night. Lin- 




coln often went out to milk barefooted when the ground 
was white with frost. 

In midsummer they wore no shoes at all, except 
when they went to Sunday-school or to town. Their 
feet resembled " toad backs," their mother often said, 
and when ordered to wash their feet, they ran out into 
the tall grass, cleansed them in the dew, running back- 
ward in order to wash their heels. They were gener- 
ally limping from a bruise or a brier or some other 
cause, but accepted each wound as one of the unavoid- 
able things of human life. 

There were always a lot of calves to be fed, and they 



I02 Boy Life on the Prairie 

did not like that very well, either, for they were noisy 
and unruly little brutes. They were sure to blow a 
blast of milk upon you if you did not watch out, and 
each one tried hard to steal the other's portion, and 
often ended by spilling it all. The pigs were less 
trouble. They had but to empty the pail into a long 
trough and let them race for it. The boys taught the 
calves to drink by letting them suck their fingers be- 
neath the surface of the milk, and Lincoln nailed a rag 
to the bottom of the pail, and it answered admirably. 

As soon as the grain was threshed, the herd was 
brought in and turned on the stubble, and then it was 
Owen's business to keep them out of the corn. This 
was called " watching the cows," and it became very 
tiresome indeed after a tew hours. After the cows had 
enjoyed a taste of the juicy young corn they became 
excessively eager to return to it, and the boy was forced 
to eye them closely. If he turned his back to get 
a melon or to visit with Lincoln, one of the rangy 
steers was certain to set forth in a bee-line for the corn, 
trailing all the herd behind him. Once within the 
shelter of the tall stalks, it required loud hallooing, and 
the best work of Rover to get them out, and even then 
thev managed to get away with a nice taste of the 
succulent leaves. They loved it as Owen loved ice- 
cream. 

So it was that the boys were in attendance on cattle 
from year end to year end, and they didn't like it. In 
fact, they didn't like any kind of work very well, at 
least not as a steady business. They liked riding and 



Herding the Cattle loj 

fishing and swimming and playing ball and lassoing 
the colts and training yearlings to the yoke, and break- 
ing colts, and going to school, because at school there 
were no cows to milk or horses to curry, and yet in 
spite of all this they did an amazing amount of work. 
They grumbled and rubbed their eyes, but they got up 
early, and they were busy all day long either on the 
farm with the men or on the plains with the cattle. 










-..'-••■..: 



MEADOW MEMORIES 



MEMORY, what conjury is thine ? 

Once more the sun shines on the wheat — 
Once more I drink the wind like wine 

When bursts the lark's song wildly sweet 
From out the rain-wet new-mown grass. 

I hear the sickle's clattering sweep, 
And far-hallooings fleetly pass 

From field to field. Again I heap 
The odorous windrows rank on rank — 

Far from the tumult of the street, 
From granite pavements' ceaseless clank, 

From grinding grooves and jar of car, 

1 flee and lave mv boyish feet 

Where bee-lodged clover-blossoms are. 
104 



CHAPTER X 

THE WILD MEADOWS. HAYING TIME 

Haying was the one season of farm work which the 
boys thoroughly enjoyed. It usually began on the tame 
meadows about the twenty-fifth of June, and lasted a 
week or so. It had always appealed to Lincoln, in a 
distinctly beautiful and poetic sense, which was not true 
of the main business of farming. Most of the duties 
through which he passed needed the lapse of years to 
seem beautiful in his eyes, but haying had a charm and 
significance quite out of the common. 

At this time the summer was at its most exuberant 
stage of vitality, and it was not strange that even the 
faculties of toiling old men, dulled and deadened with 
never ending drudgery, caught something of exultation 
from the superabundant glow and throb of Nature's life. 
The corn-field, dark green and sweet-smelhng, rippled 
like a sea with a multitudinous stir and sheen and swirl. 
Waves of dusk and green and yellow circled across the 
level fields, while long leaves upthrust at intervals like 
spears or shook like guidons. The trees were in heavy 
leaf, insect life was at its height, and the air was filled 
with buzzing, dancing forms and with the sheen of 
innumerable gauzy wings. 

The air was shaken by most ecstatic voices. The 
105 



io6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

bobolinks sailed and sang in the sensuous air, now sink- 
ing, now rising, their exquisite notes ringing, filling the 
air like the chimes of tiny silver bells. The king-bird, 
ever alert and aggressive, cried out sharply as he launched 
from the top of a poplar tree upon some buzzing insect, 
and the plover made the prairie sad with his wailing call. 
Vast purple-and-white clouds moved like bellying sails 
before the lazy wind, dark with rain, which they dropped 
momentarily like trailing garments upon the earth, and 
so passed on in stately measure with a roll of thunder. 

The grasshoppers moved in clouds with snap and 
buzz, and out of the luxurious stagnant marshes came 
the ever thickening chorus of the toads and the frogs, 
while above them the killdees and snipe shuttled to and 
fro in soundino; flii>;ht, and the blackbirds on the cattails 
and willows swayed with lifted throats, uttering their 
subtle liquid notes, made mad with delight of the sun 
and their own music. And over all and through all 
moved the slow, soft west wind, laden with the breath 
of the far-off prairie lands of the west, soothing and 
hushing and filling the world with a slumbrous haze. 

It was time for vacation, and as a matter of fact the 
boys on the farm found a little leisure between corn- 
ploughing and haying for base-ball, swimming, fishing, and 
berrying, and they declined to exchange places with the 
cowboys under these circumstances. They knew from 
dear experience that from the time the sickle set into the 
timothy there was no vacation till the snow fell. 

In the ever changing West, " haying " covers a mul- 
titude of diverse experiences. Those whose recollections 



The Wild Meadows 107 

extend over a term of twenty years, have seen many 
changes in the implements of haying ; from the old- 
fashioned scythe and rake to the patent-geared-self-lift- 
ing-adjustable-front-cut-yellow-King Mowing-machine, 
and the self-dumping, spring-tooth horse-rake, not to 
speak of the patent-loader harpoon-fork, and baling- 
press. 

Lincoln's earliest recollections of the haying-field 
were of going into the field with an older boy, to take 
a large white jug of " switchel " to the men. (The 
jug was swung on a pole, and each accused the other 
of trying to get the long end.) The men were bent 
above the scythe, and cruel work it was — though Lin- 
coln remembered only the glorious strawberries, which 
the toilers tossed up on the green billows of damp 
grass ; and also with what awe he gazed at the great 
green frogs, sitting motionless near by, and his horror 
of the black snakes which ran with heads above the 
timothy. The frogs always looked so mossy and in- 
animate, it was a surprise to see them move. At this 
time he was too small to have a set task, and was put to 
look for berries and tumble down the " doodles." 

But a year or two later, when his freedom to come 
and go was ended, Lincoln began work in the field by 
" raking after." Every middle-aged man in the West 
will know what that subtends. It brings to mind a 
gloomy urchin, with a long-handled rake, following a 
huge, half-loaded wagon. He is treading gingerly the 
" stubble-speared, new-mown sward," sliding his bare 
feet close to the ground to avoid being spiked, or set- 



io8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ting foot carefully in the track of the "bull-wheel" 
for the same good reason. What a blessed relief it 
was when the boy found the slant of the stubble going 
his way! Scatterings — always the command, "Lin- 
coln, hurry up with them scatterings." 

All through June, before the haying came on, Lin- 
coln and O^ven kept track of the cattle on the wide 
prairies, or rode the horse in ploughing corn, and helped 
to build fence, and cut hazel brush before the breaking- 
plough. There was always something to do, even in 
" slack times." But the days grew hotter, the grass 
thicker and taller, and finally, on a bright, cloudless 
morning in June, the mowing-machine buzzed merrily 
around the grass-lot. 

It had always been a joyous sound to Lincoln, this 
whizzing clatter of the mower. It was a pleasure to 
watch the sickle as it melted into the grasses stately 
and. fragrant. They seemed to bow to the sweep of 
the shining bar. The timothy heads, sinking, shook 
out a fragrant, purple dust, and the cloyer blooms and 
fallen roses mingled their expiring breaths as they with- 
ered beneath the sun. The hay was even more fragrant 
than the grass. All day under the sun, all night under 
the dew, it lay, changing from green to gray ; and the 
next afternoon it was ready to be raked into windrows 
and bunched, reading for stacking. 

Raking, in the olden times, was a long and hard task. 
I can just remember seeing a row of men using hand- 
rakes as they gathered the hay on a valley farm in Wis- 
consin, but at the same time, on the lowan prairies they 



The Wild Meadows 



109 



were using a revolving rake drawn by a horse and oper- 
ated by a man walking behind. A year or two later 
came the riding horse-rake ; and by the time Lincoln 
was able to take an important part in the haying-field, 
the rake had been improved so that a boy could run it, 
and it became his duty from his eleventh year forward. 

It was with great joy and pride that he rode for the 
first time into the field atop this new tool. He kept 






li-hi. -*•" ^ ^ -^" ,( 



:': '- ^'-: 



, 'i^-A ^-i,^;^^-,:'-^ 







his feet stoutly braced to the trip-lever until a big roll 
of gathered hay bulged beneath him, then, with a 
mighty pull, raised the teeth and dropped his load at 
the " win'row." Three times round the piece, and the 
" doodling " began. Owen now " raked after," a task 
which he hated with cordial intensity. White, the 
hired man, and Mr. Stewart put the hay into conical 
heaps, their light and graceful forks flashing in the 
vivid sunlight. There was very little drudgery con- 
nected with this harvest. 

Each morning Mr. Stewart drove the mowing-ma- 
chine, its clatter and buzz pulsing through the air like 



no Boy Life on the Prairie 

the cheerful drone of a gigantic insect, while the boys 
and the hired men set up that already cured. The 
work was clean, not severe, and though the weather 
was warm, it was almost always enjoyable. Sometimes 
Mr. Stewart changed work with some of his neighbors, 
and so David McTurg and Ranee or Milton came to 
help, and the work was almost like a picnic party. 

Costumes were simple. A big, oat-straw hat, a 
hickory shirt, and a pair of denim trousers outfitted 
a boy, though Ranee never went barefoot. The men 
wore boots (or a sort of army " brogan " shoe) in addi- 
tion. If the sun were especially warm, they all filled 
their hats with cool, green cottonwood leaves, and 
" bore down " on the handle of their forks, which 
were three-tined, with smooth, curved handles, quite 
unlike the clumsy, two-tined things which Lincoln had 
often seen in pictures. The companionship, the merry 
voices of the men, the song of the machine, made hay- 
ing very pleasant to all hands, although Lincoln's back 
sometimes ached with lifting the rake teeth, and the 
old mare grew stubborn and stupid as the day wore on. 

Dinner came, bringing joy. Oh, the cool water at 
the well ! And the fried pork, and the volcano of 
mashed potatoes, with a lump of butter in the crater ! 
llie salt pork, when dipped in bread-crumbs, tasted so 
good that the boys nearly " foundered themselves," as 
Jennings used to say. There was very little ceremony 
at these meals. Man and boy went to the table as they 
came from the field, wet with sweat and sprinkled with 
timothy bloom. Napkins were " against the law," and 




To/a.f /.'i-< /// 



The Wild Meadows iii 

steel knives were used to help out the three-tined forks. 
There were no courses, and no waiting on the table. 
The host merely said : " Now, boys, help yourselves. 
What you can't reach, yell for." 

The weather was glorious, with only occasional show- 
ers to accentuate the splendid sunlight. There were no 
old men and no women in these fields. The men were 
young and vigorous, and their action was swift and sup- 
ple. Sometimes it was hot to the danger point, especially 
on the windless side of the stack (no one had hay barns 
in those days), and sometimes the pitcher complained of 
cold chills running up his back. Sometimes Jack flung 
a pailful of water over his head and shoulders before 
beginning to unload, and seemed the better for it. Mr. 
Stewart kept plenty of " switchel " (which is composed 
of ginger and water) for his hands to drink. He had 
a notion that it was less injurious than water or beer, 
and no sunstrokes occurred among his men. 

The sun rose in cloudless splendor each day, though 
during the middle hours vast domes of dazzling white 
clouds, half-sunk in misty blue, appeared, encircling the 
horizon. The farmers kept an anxious eye on these 
" thunder-heads," regulating the amount of cutting by 
the signs of the sky. At times the thermometer rose to 
one hundred degrees in the shade, but work went on 
steadily. 

Once, on a hot afternoon, the air took on an oppres- 
sive density ; the wind died away almost to a calm, 
blowing fitfully from the south, while in the far west a 
vast dome of inky clouds, silent and portentous, uplifted, 



112 Boy Life on the Prairie 

filling the horizon, swelling like a great bubble, yet 
seeming to have the weight of a mountain range in its 
mass. The birds, bees, and all insects, hitherto vocal, 
suddenly sank into silence, as if awed by the first deep 
mutter of the storm. The mercury is touching one 
hundred degrees in the shade. 

All hands hasten to get the hay in order, that it niav 
shed rain. Thev hurry without haste, as only adept 
workmen can. They roll up the windrows by getting 
fork and shoulder under one end, tumbling it over and 
over endwise, till it is large enough ; then go back for 
the scatterings, which are placed, with a deft turn of 
the fork, on the top to cap the pile. The boys laugh 
and shout as they race across the field. Every man is 
wet to the skin with sweat; hats are flung aside; Lin- 
coln, on the rake, puts his horse to the trot. The feel- 
ing of struggle, of racing with the thunder, exalts him. 

Nearer and nearer comes the storm, silent no longer. 
The clouds are breaking up. The bovs stop to listen. 
Far away is heard a low, steady, crescendo, grim roar ; 
intermixed with crashing thunderbolts, the rain streams 
aslant, but there is not vet a breath of air from the west; 
the storm-wind is still far away; the toads in the marsh, 
and the fearless king-bird, alone cry out in the ominous 
gloom cast by the rolling clouds ot the tempest. 

" Look out ! here it comes ! " The black cloud 
melts to form the gray veil of the falling rain, which 
blots out the plain as it sweeps on. Now it strikes the 
corn-field, sending a tidal wave rushing across it. Now 
it reaches the wind-break, and the spire-like poplars bow 



The Wild Meadows 113 

humbly to it. Now it touches the hay-field, and the caps 
of the cocks go flying ; the long grass streams in the 
wind like a woman's hair. In an instant the day's work 
is undone, and the hay is opened to the drenching rain. 

As all hands rush for the house, the roaring tempest 
rides upon them like a regiment of demon cavalry. The 
lightning breaks forth from the blinding gray clouds of 
rain. As Lincoln looks up he sees the streams of fire 
go rushing across the sky like the branching of great red 
trees. A moment more, and the solid sheets of water 
fall upon the landscape, shutting it from view, and the 
thunder crashes out, sharp and splitting, in the near dis- 




tance, to go deepening and bellowing off down the 
illimitable spaces of the sky and plain, enlarging, as it 
goes, like the rumor of war. 

In the east is still to be seen a faint crescent of the 
sunny sky, rapidly being closed in as the rain sweeps 
eastvyard ; but as that diminishes to a gleam, a similar 
window, faint, watery, and grav, appears in the west, as 
the clouds break away. It widens, grows yellow, and 
then red ; and at last blazes out into an inexpressible 
glory of purple and crimson and gold, as the storm 
I 



114 -^oy Life on the Prairie 

moves swiftly over. The thunder grows deeper, — dies 
to a retreating mutter, and is lost. The cloud's dark 
presence passes away. The trees flame with light, the 
robins take up their songs again, the air is deliciously 
cool. The corn stands bent, as if still acknowledg-ing- 
the majcstv of the wind. Everything is new-washed, 
clean of dust, and a faint, moist odor of green things is 
everywhere. 

Lincoln seizes the opportunity to take Owen's place 
in bringing the cattle, and mounting his horse gallops 
awav. The road is wet and muddy, but the prairie is 
firm, and the pony is full of power. In full flower, 
fragrant with green grass and radiant with wild roses, 
sweet-williams, lilies, pinks, and pea-vines, the sward 
lies new washed by the rain, while over it runs a strong, 
cool wind from the clearing west. The boy's heart 
swells with unutterable joy of life. The world is 
exaltingly beautiful. It is good to be alone — good to 
be a boy and to be mounted on a swift horse. 



I 







I 







O wiDF, cloud-peopled, 

Mimmcr sk\ , 
Sea-dnfting grasses, rust- 
ling rcedi 
Where \oung grouse to 
their mothers cry 
V v;-;-: •-,:>;■ T^v'' And locusts buzz from 

whistling weeds ; 
O meadows lying like lagoons 
Ofsun-smit water — on whose swells 
Float nodding blooms to tinkling bells 
Of bob-o-linkums' wildest tunes — 
My western land I love you yet ! 
In dreams I ride my horse again 
And breast the breezes blowing fleet 
From out the sunset cool and wet 
From fields of flowers blowing sweet 
With honey for the droning bees. 
The wild oats swirl like ripened grain ; 
I feel their dash against my knees 
Like rapid plash of running seas. 
"5 



Ii6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

I pass by islands, dark and tall, 
Of painted aspen thick with leaves. 
The grass in rustling ripple cleaves 
To left and right as waters flow. 
And as I listen, riding slow. 
Out breaks the robin's jocund call. 
O shining suns of boyhood's time, 
O winds that from the mythic west 
Sang lures to Eldorado's quest, 

swaying thrushes' sunset chime. 
When the loud city's ceaseless roar 
Enfolds mv soul as if in shrouds, 

1 hear vour sounds and songs once more 
And dream of western wind-swept clouds ! 



The Wild Meadows 117 

The farmers depended very largely upon the wild 
meadows for most of their hay, raising only enough tim- 
othy to feed their milch-cows. The near meadow be- 
ing claimed, Mr. Stewart was obliged to go some miles 
away to find a midsummer cutting. The boys found 
these wild meadows of infinite interest. The tame 
meadows were prose, the upland meadows poetry, the 
sloughs mystery, filled as they were with flowers, weeds, 
aromatic plants, insects, and reptiles. Wild straw- 
berries furnished sauce for the dinner, eaten beside the 
wagon, with the odor of the popple trees in the air, and 
the bob-o-linkums gave orchestral accompaniment. The 
trail of the sluggish gray rattlesnake added a touch of 
malignant menace. He was always near on these grass- 
lands. 

Once the boys secured permission to camp all night 
beside the wagon, and after the men drove away home- 
ward, they busied themselves with eating their supper 
and making up their beds on piles of hay, with the deli- 
cious feeling of being real campers on the plains. This 
feeling of exaltation died out as the light paled in the 
western sky. The wind grew suddenly cold, and the 
sky threatened a storm. The world became each 
moment more menacing. Out of the darkness came 
obscure noises. Now it seemed like the slow, sinister 
movement of a rattlesnake — now it was the hopping, 
intermittent movement of a polecat. 

Lincoln was secretly appalled by these sinister changes, 
but the feeling that he was shielding weakness made 
him strong, and he kept a cheerful voice. He lay awake 



Ii8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

long afier Owen fell asleep, with eyes strained toward 
every moving shadow, his ears intent for every movement 
in the grass. He had the primitive man's sense of war- 
fare against nature, recalled his bed in the garret with 
fervent longing, and resolved never again to tempt the 
dangers of the night. He fell asleep only when the 
moon rose and morning seemed near. 

The coming of the sun rendered the landscape good 
and cheerful and friendly again, and he was ashamed to 
acknowledge how nervous he had been. When his 
father returned, and asked with a smile, "Well, boys, 
how did you enjoy it ? " Lincoln replied, "• O bully. 
It was lots of fun." 

That night when they rode home, high on a fragrant 
load of hay, it seemed as though they had been away for 
a month. Mrs. Stewart had warm biscuits for supper, 
and the hearts of her sons overflowed with gratitude and 
love. " Campin' is all right for a day or two, but for a 
stiddy business give me mother's cookin'," said Lincoln. 



HOME FROM WILD MEADOWS 

Through cool dry dust the wagons chuckle. 
Their talk subdued and grave and low. 
The horses walk with heads low-swinging. 
Their footfalls muffled, rhythmical, and slow. 
Upon the weedy load of autumn grasses 
I lie at ease and watch the daylight wane. 
Hearing the hum of distant thresher. 
And cowbells down the dusty lane. 

The darkness deepens, and the stars appearing. 
Line out the march of coming night. 
And now I catch the farm-yard's calling. 
And cross the kitchen's band of friendly light. 
Familiar laughter wakes — the falling neck-yokes rattle. 
The pump gives out a welcome squeal. 
The barn's gloom swallows men and cattle. 
And mother's call to supper rings like a bugle's peal. 
119 



I20 



Boy Life on the Prairie 



During the hot days of summer the ri\'er came to be 
of greater and greater value to the older boys toiling 
in the hot corn rows, and trips for bathing and fish- 
ing were looked forward to with keenest longing, and 
remembered with deepest delight. Many of Lincoln's 
sweetest recollections of nature are associated with these 
swimming excursions. To go from the dusty field of 
the prairie farms to the wood shadows and to the cool 
murmuring of water, to strip stark to the caressing 
winds, and to plunge in the deeps of the dappled pools, 
was like being born again. 



^^ . ■■-■ ■■■"-. '/''. , 




It comes from the meadow 

Where cool and deep, 

In the elm's dark shadow. 

In murmur of dream and of sleep. 

It drowsily eddied and swirled 

And softly crept and curled 

Round the out-thrust knees 

Of the bassvvood trees 



The River 121 

And lifted the rustling, dripping sedge 
In rhythmic sweep at the outer edge. 

It was then the water-snake rippled across. 

Through the shimmering supple the leaves cast down. 

While the swamp-bird perched on the spongy moss 

In the shadow-side looked gravely on. 

'Twas there the kingfishers swiftly flew. 

In the cool, sweet silence from tree to tree — 

All silence, save when the vagabond jay 

Flashed swiftly by with sharp "Te-chee," 

Swaggering by in his elfish way — 

And I, a bare-legged boy again. 

Can hear the low, sweet laugh of the river — 

See on the water the dapples aquiver. 

Feel on my knees the lipping lap 

Of the sunny ripples, and see the snake 

Slip silently into the sedgy brake. 

And hear the rising pickerel slap 

In a rushing leap 

Where the lilies sleep. 



122 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The Maple River was about four miles away, a bright, 
sparkling stream, with occasional pools, overhung by 
great elm and bassvvood trees, and bordered with droop- 
ing water-grasses and delicate ferns. The road to these 
swimming-places led away through beautiful wild 
meadows, rich with waving crow's-foot, lit as with flame 
by pinks, lilies, roses, and sweet-williams. Young 
prairie chickens rose before each galloping horse with a 
sudden buzz, and the smell of roses burdened the slow 
wind. A mile of burr-oak openings followed, and then 
came the dip into the wooded bottom where the river 
ran. 

The boys usually went in parties of five or six. 
Sometimes they started late on Saturday afternoon, more 
often on Sunday ; for many of the parents took the 
view that cleanliness was next to godliness, and made no 
objection to such Sabbath excursions. Lincoln usually 
rode over after Milton, and together they picked up 
Ranee on the way. Sometimes one of the herdmen 
took a team and gathered up a load of young men and 
boys. 

When the river came in sight, a race began, to see 
who should first throw off his clothing and be as the 
frogs are. 

Shadows seemed to beckon, the kingfishers called, 
and the water laughed up at the exultant fugitixcs from 
the burning dust of the fields, with delicious promise of 
coolness and vigor. 

After they had taken their fill of swimming and plung- 
ing, and spattering each other with water, the bovs re- 



The River 



123 



turned to their hickory shirts and brown denim overalls, 
and wandered up and down the river, seeking the new 
and interesting things which the wood and the river 
offered to them. They dug clams out of the sand, and 
caught and killed the great spotted water-snakes that 
ventured out of the sedges along the river. They 
mocked the kingfishers, and the giant " thunder pump- 
ers " in the reeds, and gathered the strange plants and 




flowers which grew in the cool dusk under the shadow 
of the basswood trees. 

All things not positively poisonous were eaten, or at 
least tasted. The roots of ferns, black haws, choke- 
berries, sheep-sorrel, Indian tobacco, clams, dewberries, 
May-apples — anything at all that happened to be in 
season or handy. Sometimes they fished, and usually 
with ill success — they were too impatient of silence, 
and too eager to enjoy to the full the cool paths and the 



124 Boy Life on the Prairie 

pools. And when it was all over, they mounted their 
horses and rode reluctantly back into the heat and burn- 
ing sunlight of the farm lanes — back to milk the cows 
and feed the pigs, and begin again their six days of 
toil. 

Of course the lucky boys of Owen's age were able to 
reach the woodland oftener, but once a week was as 
often as Lincoln and Milton could get away during the 
corn-growing season. They had to ride horse to the 
single-shovel plough or to pull weeds with their brown 
and warty hands. A freshet in June brought large 
numbers of fish up the rivers from the Mississippi, and 
one day the boys organized a night expedition for spear- 
ing pickerel. After a day or two of toil making kero- 
sene torches, while the blacksmith forged a spear out of 
a broken fork, Lincoln and Ranee and Jack, the hired 
man, joined with several other sportsmen of the neigh- 
borhood, in a visit to the river. They arrived just at dark, 
and leaving a man in the wagon with orders to meet 
them at the bridge, the spearmen entered the shallows, 
and began to wade slowly upward, with torches held 
high, to light the fish as they swam slowly away. 

Lincoln was torch-bearer, and counted it an honor. 
His torch lit the rushing waters and the deep pools, but 
threw into impenetrable darkness the farther landscape. 
After an hour of wading behind the men, the universe 
seemed reduced to a chill stream, rushing between snake- 
haunted jungles of grass beneath a feeble flare of light 
into endless night. The mere fiict of being there in the 
cold water at midnight, rather than in his snug warm 



The River 125 

bed, made the expedition heroic, and Lincoln again felt 
the savage arms of nature close round him. 

At first there was much outcry : — 

" There goes one ! " 

" I've got him ! " 

" Here, Link, bring your light ! " and much exulta- 
tion over captures. As the night wore on, — toward 
twelve, — however, there was a steady decrease of talk 
and corresponding increase of silence, wherein the lap- 
ping rush or soft purling ripple of the river could be 
heard. The water chilled Lincoln's feet, and sharp 
pebbles got into his old boots, until at last the fun was 
quite lost out of carrying torch, and he was heartily glad 
of a chance to climb into the wagon which was waiting 
for them at " the big bend." And when he threw off 
his wet clothing and tumbled into bed, the river and the 
fish were of small account. In the days which followed, 
this glimpse of nature from the night river came to pos- 
sess singular charm, and though he never went again, he 
often talked of it to Ranee. 

Nearly every farm-house on Sun Prairie sorely needed 
protection from the winter winds, and the thriftiest of 
the farmers set about planting trees at once. Naturally 
they selected those which grew most rapidly, either 
willows, cottonwoods, soft maples, or Lombardy pop- 
lars, which were being introduced by nurserymen. All 
of these except the maples were planted by means of 
cuttings from the branches, and Lincoln and Owen 
spent a day pushing " slips " of willow and cotton- 
wood into the soft, moist earth. They were delegated 



126 Boy Life on the Prairie 

also to report when the maple seeds were ripe and 
falling. 

The Stewarts and the Knapps made up a picnic partv, 
one day in June, to go to the river and gather tree seeds. 
This made another red-letter day in the calendar. It 
offered the small boys another chance to go in swim- 
ming, to climb trees, and to dig clams out of the sand- 
bars ; and it afforded the grown-up boys and girls an 
excuse for putting on their good clothes and riding in a 
buggy. It was at such times that the cowboys con- 
sidered the business of cattle-herding an overrated 
amusement, and looked upon the passing wagons laden 
with joyous young folks, with dim and sullen eyes. 
They forgot how many weary days of corn-ploughing 
thev had escaped. The seeds were soon gathered, and 
nothing remained but to lie under the trees and wait 
for dinner. 

Here the big girls proved of some use. They set out 
large segments of pie and cold chicken and jelly cake 
for their sweethearts, and a boy could manage to fill his 
stomach while Jennie and Mace were passing compli- 
ments. It made no difference which came first, pie or 
chicken, each arrived at the same station in the end ; so 
Lincoln and his comrades seized on any attractive vic- 
tual at hand, and having filled up, returned to the river 
to swim in defiance of the well-known law of health, 
which says one should not bathe till three hours after 
eating. However, they kept on bathing the entire three 
hours and so came within the scope of the rule, after all. 
After swimming till they were tired, they painted them- 



The River 



127 



selves with mud and pretended to be Indians and hunted 
each other in the alder thickets. It was very exciting, 
and the afternoon slipped away with mournful swiftness. 
Lincoln enjoyed the tree-planting. Bryant's " Plant- 
ing of the Apple Tree " had made a mystical impression 
on his mind, and to bring any kind of tree into being 
seemed noble and fine. It was a great pleasure to see 
them grow during the summer days. They shot up 
like corn, by the second winter forming a considerable 







1^ . '/i-'^'J'^ 



>"^> 



'■^ Ct> 




check to the fierce winds, and yet, fast as they grew, 
they were too slow for the settler. It seemed as though 
they would never grow tall enough to shade him. 
(They stand there now with bodies big as his own — 
reaching out their arms like yawning young giants.) 

Lincoln and Owen soon discovered that the prairies 
were populous with a sort of wolf, half-way between 
the coyote of the plains and the gray wolf of the tim- 
ber land. They were called simply " prairie wolves." 
Nothing else, save an occasional deer or antelope, re- 
mained of the splendid game animals which had once 
covered these flowery and sunlit savannahs. Of the 
elk, nothing remained but his great bleached antlers. 



128 Boy Life on the Prairie 

gleaming white in the grass, and only deep-worn trails 
in the swales of the unbroken prairie marked the places 
where the mighty bison had trod. But the wolf, more 
adaptable, remained to prey, like the fox, on the small 
cattle of the incoming settler. 

Mr, Stewart, during the second season, planted a field 
of corn just back of his barn, nearly half a mile in 
length, and a quarter of a mile in breadth, which made 
a magnificent ambush for wolves and foxes and skunks, 
and as the spring chickens grew nice and fat, and the 
corn dark and tall as a forest, these marauders began 
to make their attacks upon the barn-yard. The corn, 
stretching awav in sombre, dark-green, thick-standing 
rows, joined the tall grass and hazel thickets of the 
prairie to the north, and the wolves came easily to the 
very edge of the chicken range, even in broad daylight. 
Each day a wild commotion broke out in the edge of 
the corn-field near the barn, followed by screams of 
terror from the voung chickens, a flutter and a squawk, 
and Mrs. Stewart only found a handful of feathers, and 
another fat broiler gone. 

In vain Lincoln laid in wait with shot-gun, his heart 
beating wildly. Li vain he set traps and put out poison. 
The wolves had eyes and ears all too keen for him. Each 
day the flock grew less, and the wolves fatter. Mr. 
Stewart considered chicken-raising too small business for 
men anyway, and was not particularly stirred up about it. 

In this urgency the boys mysteriously acquired a de- 
fender of the farm-yard flock. A woebegone looking 
dog came to them one day out of his distress and stayed 



The River 



129 



with them because of their need of him. He was a mix- 
ture of Hver-and-white pointer and foxhound, with a tail 
Uke a broomstick, and ears that hung down hke broken 
hinges. His big eyes were meek and sorrowful, almost 
to tears, his ribs stood out like hoops, and his neck was 
covered with minute brown specks like flecks of blood. 

The boys fed him, which was no light task, for his 
capacity was enormous. " He don't stop to taste it," 
cried Owen, ruefully. He assumed an air of being at 
home at once, and it became necessary to name him. 
For some reason the boys imagined his home to be on 
the Wapsypinnicon River, and Lincoln called him 
" Wapsy," for short. This he accepted with a slow 
wag of his tail, as if to say, " I am very grateful for so 
nice a name." 

He was a wonderful creature to the boys. There was 
something forlorn and mysterious in his silent presence, 
and when he gave voice, his bay was like the mournful 
echoes of a battered bugle. " He'll keep the wolves 
away," said Lincoln, and they all waited with eagerness 
for the next commotion among the hens, and when it 
came, Lincoln ran out among the pumpkin vines, callino- 
to Wapsy, " Sic 'em, boy ! sic 'em ! " 

All to no purpose. He lumbered along, looking at 
his master with dim, pathetic eyes, as if to say, " I am a 
stranger, and I don't know what you want of me." All 
this amused Mr. Stewart very much. " 'Bout the only 
thing he's good for is to keep bread from spoiling." 

After trying this a number of times to no effect, it 
occurred to Lincoln that Wapsy's eyes were of no use 



I JO Boy Life on the Prairie 

to him, for he could never be induced to look in the 
direction in which his master pointed. Lincoln there- 
fore called his attention to the ground, and by moving 
in a circle at last came upon the trail of the wolf. Then 
old Wapsy awoke. With sudden bell-like outcry he 
dashed away into the corn-field, straight on the trail, cer- 
tain and swift, his tail lifted, decision in everv movement. 
The boys raced after him, wild with excitement. They 
had discovered his peculiar powers. He was a " smeller," 
not a " looker." 

They came to the edge of the corn-field just in time 
to see him overtake a wolf on a little ridge some forty 
rods in the open. The robber was a little nettled by his 
failure to get a chicken, and not at all disposed to run ; 
on the contrary, he seemed willing to try conclusions with 
this new foe. As the hound pounced upon him, he 
curled up like a cat, and reaching back snapped at Wapsy's 
throat, then leaped away just out of the dog's reach. 
Again giving tongue, the old hound struck after his 
enemy, only to receive each time that wicked, clipping 
snap; so fighting and running thev passed out of sight. 

When Wapsy returned, the brown flecks on his neck 
were reddened with the blood which his keen-fanged 
antagonist had drawn from him, but he had won the 
respect even of Mr. Stewart. 

Having discovered his peculiar powers, the boys 
amused themselves by setting him subtle tasks. Some- 
body said to Lincoln, " If you want a dog to be always 
able to foller you, you jest rub a piece of meat or bread 
on the sole of your shoe, and give it to him. He'll track 



The River 13 1 

you anywhere after that." This was sufficiently mys- 
terious to attract Lincohi, and as he wore no shoes at 
all, he rubbed the bread on the sole of his bare foot, in- 
stead. This the dog swallowed at a gulp as usual, and 
the boys set forth to experiment. While Owen held 
Wapsy near the house, Lincoln ran out on the prairie, 
doubling in every conceivable way, and at last hid in a 
deep hollow. Upon being released, the old dog started 
forth upon his search. 

It was a little uncanny to Owen to see how accurately 
the hound traced his master's footsteps, gliding in and 
out, curving, circling, looping, with a certainty which be- 
came almost appalling to Lincoln as he listened to the 
old dog's deep baying. It was easy to imagine himself 
a fugitive, and Wapsy a ferocious bloodhound on his 
trail. And then, his tongue lolling out, and his long 
ears waving and flapping, he peered up with his dim eyes, 
that seemed, somehow, as pathetic as those of an old 
man; the old dog seemed to say, "Did I do it well?" 

In a little time they could tell by the minute differ- 
ences in his baying whether he was on the trail of a 
rabbit, a skunk, a fox, or a wolf. He was a faithful soul 
and of great value. Night after night he battled with 
his savage enemies, returning to the house each morning 
wet with his own blood. 

He remained only one summer. He disappeared 
early in September, as silently and as mysteriously as he 
came. Perhaps his work was done. Perhaps the wolves 
united to kill him, or he may have eaten some poison. 

Mrs. Lincoln was not inconsolable, for he was an 



132 Boy Life on the Prairie 

enormous eater, and smelled of polecats, while Mr. 
Stewart considered him the " measliest critter that e\'er 
punished a hunk o' meat." To the boys he was a vis- 
itor from the great world which lay just over the big 
ridge to the east. 



CORN SHADOWS 

With heart grown weary of the heat 

And hungry for the breath 

Of field and farm, with eager feet 

I trod the pavement dry as death 

Through city streets where crime is born, 

And sudden — lo, a ridge of corn ! 

Above the dingy roofs it stood 

A dome of tossing, tangled spears. 

Dark, cool, and sweet as any wood 

Its silken, green, and plumed ears 

Laughed on me through the haze of morn - 

The tranquil presence of the corn ! 

Upon the salt weed from the sea 
Borne westward swift as dreams 
Of boyhood are, I seemed to be 
Once more a part of sounds and gleams 
Thrown on me by the winds of morn 
Amid the rustling rows of corn. 

I bared my head, and on me fell 
The old-time wizardry again 
Of leaf and sky, the mystic spell 
Of boyhood's easy joy or pain. 
When pumpkin trump was Siegfried's horn 
Echoing down the walls of corn. 
133 



134 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

1 saw the field (as trackless then 

As wood to Daniel Boone) 

Wherein we hunted wolves as men, 

And camped and twanged the green bassoon j 

Not blither Robin Hood's merry horn 

Than pumpkin pipe amid the corn. 

In central deeps the melons lay, 
Slow swelling in the August sun. 
I traced again the narrow way. 
And joined again the stealthy run — 
The jack-o'-lantern's wraith was born 
Within the shadows of the corn. 

O luide^ sweet wilderness of leaves ! 
O playmates far away ! Over thee 
The sloiu wind like a mourner grieves^ 
And stirs the plumed ears fitfully. 
JVould lue could sound the signal horn 
Jnd fneet once more in walls of corn I 



CHAPTER XI 

A FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION 

Money in those days was less easily obtained than 
now, especially on the border, and Lincoln had never 
had fifty cents to spend on a Fourth of July. Once he 
had thirty cents, and it seemed that he was as rich as 
any boy could reasonably hope to be. For several years 
he had only fifteen cents, a dime of which went for a 
bunch of firecrackers ; with the remaining five cents 
he bought an orange (which he carried in the hollow of 
his brown little paw, smelling of it from time to time, 
reluctant to break its skin) or some peanuts. But the 
year he was fourteen years of age he had a big silver 
dollar, and Owen had one just like it. For weeks they 
planned how to use these immense sums. One thing 
they decided upon early — they would have three 
bunches of firecrackers. 

It had been their habit, for some years, to stealthily 
rise in the early morning, and fire the heavily charged 
shot-gun from the chamber window, and to wake the 
household with furious cheers. Once they tried to 
make a cannon out of an old mowing-machine wheel, 
but failed, and fell back on the shot-gun. On this par- 
ticular morning the sound of the firearm was to be a 

135 



136 Boy Life on the Prairie 

signal to Ranee and Milton, who were to meet them at 
the school-house, and go to Rock River, the county 
town, for a riotous day. 

As Lincoln crept from his bed, and pushed the gun 
out through the open window, he was awed, for the 
moment, by the silence and beauty of the morning. It 
was scarcely dawn, and all over the grass, heavy with 
dew, lay a wavering, thin mist, which was like visible 
silence. For a moment the boy hesitated to break this 
solemn hush, but, remembering " the great day," he 
pulled both triggers at once, and the sound of the dis- 
charge rolled away over the prairie with the grandeur 
(it seemed to him) of a cannon-shot. Then he shouted 
" Hurrah for the Fourth of July ! " and Owen, 
struggling to his feet, his eyes heavy with sleep, joined 
in shrilly. Having succeeded in thoroughly disturbing 
the comfortable rest of their hard-working parents, the 
boys felt quite happy and well repaid for their trouble. 

Too much excited to eat any breakfast, and too im- 
patient to wait for it anyhow, they saddled their horses 
and rode away, a small haversack full of bread and butter 
dangling at their saddles, and their money pushed far 
down into the lowest corner of their trousers pockets. 
Their comrades were late, and it was full sunrise before 
they arrived. 

" How much money you got ? " asked Ranee at 
once. 

" A dollar. How much you got ? " 

He held up a bill. " Five dollars." 

Lincoln stared in silent amazement, his big dollar 



A Fourth of July Celebration 137 

shrinking each minute. Milton had only seventy-five 
cents, however, and the other boys were partly consoled. 

Taking the lead. Ranee and Milton cantered away, 
Owen and Lincoln close behind. It was always an ex- 
citing experience to go to Rock River, but to go on horse- 
back was glorious. Lincoln soon forgot the difference 
between his funds and those of his hero. As they 
passed other farm-houses, they saw men and boys going 
out to milk the cows and feed the horses, and felt sorry 
for them. To all who were hitching up they uttered 
exultant cheers. No one else was moving along the 
road but themselves, and as they entered the main 
street of the town, they found it quite empty, except for 
the grocers and notion-sellers, who were erecting bowers 
of green trees before their shops, and setting out lem- 
onade glasses, and heaps of rockets, firecrackers, and 
candy. 

Ranee was acquainted in town, and found a yard in 
which they were permitted to leave their horses. As 
soon as possible they returned to the street, in order to 
miss nothing of the preparation. They each bought an 
orange, and stood about, sucking at it gently, in order to 
make it last a long time. They each bought a package 
of " assorted candies." Whatever one did, the others 
did also, as a matter of course, though Milton was at a 
disadvantage. There came a time when Ranee naturally 
branched out and " went it alone," but at the start they 
kept together. Ultimately they fell under the fascination 
of the prize candy package, and each paid five cents for 
one of those deceitful boxes. Lincoln drew a little gilt 



ijS Boy Life on the Prairie 

pin, in shape like a locomotive, Ranee a big yellow fly, 
and Owen and Milton some rings that shone like gold, 
but were not. However, they did not complain. It 
was all in the game. 

Meanwhile the streets began to ring with the cries of 
the lemonade-dealers, who used their best wit to make 
people laugh. They amused the boys from Sun Prairie, 
at least. 

" Roll up, tumble up, any way to get up. Here's 
your ice-cold lemonade, made in the shade, stirred with 
a spade, by an old maid. Here it is cool and sweet." 

" Right HERE you'll find your Eyetallion oranges," 
called forth another, " five cents each. They weigh a 
pound and are sweet as sugar." 

" Ice-cream ! I scream, I scream ! " bawled his 
neighbor, with his eyes on every pair of sweethearts 
who came his way. Wagons laden with whole families 
clattered in, raising a long cloud of dust, which settled 
over the bowers, and into the ice-cream which the boys 
were eating. But dust was a small affair. Men on 
horseback, brown, keen-eyed young fellows, pulled up 
and tied before the doors of the saloons. The farmers' 
wives and daughters sat in the grocery stores and gos- 
siped for a time, in order to gain courage to go forth 
into the street, which was getting crowded with people, 
moving aimlessly back and forth along the walk. 

To Lincoln the throng was enormous. It seemed as 
if the whole country must be in town, and he felt a pang 
of regret when he remembered his mother toiling at 
home. 



A Fourth of July Celebration 139 

Meanwhile, around in a side street the " Ragamuf- 
fins " were forming, and occasionally one of them irregu- 
larly galloped down the main street, to the immense 
amusement of the boys. Whatever this parade had 
originally been, it had degenerated into a rude caricature 
of political parties or persons, and was amusing only to 
simple minds. It always contained a negro preacher, a 
couple of grotesque sweethearts, and old Uncle Sam. It 
was considerably greater in the prologue than in the 
enactment. It was all over in a few moments after it 
started. With drumming pans and tooting of tin horns 
and the blare of a designedly cacophonous band it passed 
away, and the people were able to give attention to 
something better worth while. 

Most of the forenoon was passed (and it seemed 
profitably spent by the Sun Prairie boys) in just looking 
at strange things and in devouring a mixture of nuts, 
candies, figs, and oranges. Little was necessary to 
amuse and interest them. A new sort of dog, an un- 
usual carriage, a boy playing on a mouth-organ, — 
anything at all diverted them. Time did not exist. 
They knew nothing of clocks till the middle of the day 
drew near, and even then tney felt no pang of hunger — 
they knew the middle of the day had come when, upon 
call of the marshal of the day, the elderly people " re- 
tired to the Court-house yard " to listen while " the stars 
and stripes were planted on the cloud-capped summit of 
the peaks of liberty," after which all took dinner. Even 
the boys from Sun Prairie began to feel that they ought 
to eat something besides candy and peanuts, and upon 



140 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Ranee's suggestion they returned by the alley, and ex- 
humed some bread and butter from their haversacks, 
which they ate with ginger ale for drink. Lincoln was 
already beginning to feel ill, and so was Ranee. Milton 
and Owen professed to be " all right." 

" Let's go and see the games and races at the Fair 
grounds," said Ranee. Lincoln in secret wished to 
remain on the streets, for he forecast battle among the 
men, and did not want to miss it, but agreed. As they 
were about finishing their lunch, a town boy came 
along — a stalwart, freckle-faced youth of sixteen, who 
looked them over closely. Having sized up the group, 
he made insolent demand. 

"Gimme a drink of your pop." 

" Go buy your own," replied Owen, promptly. 

" You shut up, or I'll break your jaw, you little 
country snipe." 

Ranee was moderate of speech, but he instantly said : 
" You run along. You ain't wanted here," 

The town boy doubled his fists, " Mebbe you want 
to fight me." 

" I don't want to, but I will if you don't stir your 
stumps out o' here." 

" Oh, you will, will you ! " sneered the stranger. 

Ranee grew white. "You go about your business." 

The insolent one started to sav something, but Ranee 
hurled himself against him like a bulldog, and both 
went down in the dust. Ranee on top spread out 
" like a letter X." The bully tried to rise ; he wriggled 
and twisted and kicked and offered to bite, but Ranee 



A Fourth of July Celebration 141 

held him flat on his back, a grim smile on his pale face. 
Lincoln's heart beat fast as he looked about, expecting 
each minute the rush of other foes. He dreaded a 
fight, but was willing to do his best if it came. 

" Good for you. Ranee. Hold him ! " shouted 
Milton, his eyes shining with laughter. 

At length the town boy ceased to struggle, and pant- 
ing for breath, began to cry. 

" Let me up ! I'm choking ! Let me up ! " 

" Got enough ? " asked Ranee sternly, but relaxing 
his hold a little. 

" You better let me up, now." 

There was a threat still in his voice, and Ranee laid 
his strong hard wrist across his enemy's throat and 
again said : — 

" Got enough ? " 

" Yes, yes. Let me up ! " 

Ranee let him up. " Now you let us alone," he 
said, " and git out o' here." 

The boy at a safe distance said : " I'll fix you. I'll 
bring Shorty Sykes — he'll beat you black and blue." 

Ranee made a dash at him and he fled. " Guess we 
better move," said Lincoln. " He'll come back with 
his gang in a few minutes. They're down on us 
country boys, anyway." 

The street was swarming with people now, but 
four lads had eves only for the freckle-faced boy, who 
pointed them out to his friends. Trouble was brew- 
ing. Meanwhile Lincoln was feeling sick, very sick. 
Starting the day without any breakfast, he had eaten all 



142 Boy Life on the Prairie 

the morning, and his stomach was filled with candv, 
lemonade, oranges, peanuts, ginger-pop, and soda 
crackers. Besides, he was sick by reason of his over- 
wrought nerves. He was like a rabbit that has strayed 
into the city streets, and fears every moving thing. 

It was plain the freckle-faced youth was urging his 
clan to action. They could see him talking excitedlv, 
and making savage gestures in their direction. 

Ranee was grimly silent. " Not much," he said in 
answer to Lincoln, who wished to go home. " I'm not 
goin' to be run out o' town by these runts." 

Lincoln was no fighter under the best circumstances, 
and with a splitting headache he was seeking a place to 
lie down and groan and sleep. The holiday street had 
become a field of warfare, and the surroundings were 
all alien to the country boys. 

At last the redoubtable Sykes seemed to take com- 
mand, and began to lead his forces in casual yet sinister 
fashion toward the little knot of Sun Prairie boys. 
Sykes was a sturdy chap, as his torn trouser legs too 
plainly showed. He was the town tatterdemalion, the 
yellow cur who delights to growl and yelp and roll in 
the dust with his betters. He had taken up the quarrel 
with ready jov, and only wanted an opportunity to leap 
upon Ranee, whom he had plainly marked as " my 
meat." Freckle-face as obviously singled out Lincoln, 
while two or three others were detailed to bother at 
Owen and Milton. 

At this critical moment Lincoln spied Ben Hutchison 
and called to him. Ben came up smiling, his long 



A Fourth of July Celebration 143 

upper lip twitching like a colt's. He was stained with 
orange juice and candy, but ready for any sort of fun. 

" Hello," he said. " Where you been keepin' your- 
selves ? " 

" Say, Ben," replied Lincoln, " we've got business for 
you. See them fellers ? " He pointed to the enemy. 

" Aha. What about 'em ? " 

" Why, they're plannin' to lick us like shucks, that's 
all." 

" Oh, they be ? I want to know. What for ? " 

" 'Cause we wouldn't let 'em have part of our ginger- 
pop." 

This aroused Ben thoroughly. " If they want fight, 
they can have a bellyful." 

The confident strength of this reenforcement did not 
escape the attention of the enemy, and a council of 
war was held in the alleyway between the meat shop 
and the livery stable. At last a small aid was sent to 
secure new troops. His legs fluttered like those of a 
partridge as he sped away. 

By this time the celebration and the crowd were 
entirely secondary matters. The people, indeed, seemed 
merely a wilderness of trees walking, a jungle wherein 
the coming battle must take place. The two hostile 
armies reconnoitered for position while seeking reen- 
forcements. Ranee and Ben did most of the talking. 
Milton and Lincoln were dumb from nausea, and Owen, 
too, began to suffer from internal wars among the nuts 
and candies he had munched, and the plans of the en- 
emy did not profoundly interest him. Ben realized the 



144 Boy Life on the Prairie 

weakness of his rank and file, and kept an eye out for 
wandering bands of guerillas. The best he could find 
and draw to his aid was Humboldt Bunn, whom every- 
body called " Hum-Bunn," unless they wished to pes- 
ter him ; then he naturally became " hum-^«^." He 
was a lathv, loose-jointed youth, of slender physical 
prowess, but full of grit. He was always willing to 
try, and came into the war with joy. 

"Show me 'um ! " he cried, licking his lips as if in 
preparation for a pudding. " Show me to 'um ! " and 
he doubled his rope-like arms and kicked up his heels 
so comically that even the sick ones laughed. Hum 
put humor into the war, anyway. 

Meanwhile the enemy had been reenforced by a fat 
boy, who wore a small cap over his ear and looked 
wicked, very wicked indeed. His bulk was imposing, 
but Hum took a satirical view of him. 

" I'll take that sack o' bran," said he. " I'll punch 
the wind out o' that bladder. Lem me put the kibosh 
on that puffball." 

The fat boy began to roll up his sleeves to show 
his big arms. He seemed to supersede Sykes and the 
freckle-faced one, too. With imperious voice he or- 
dered all hands to follow him, and marched straight 
toward Ben and his little army. 

As he threaded his way through encumbering men 
and women, and carriages and babies and lemonade 
stands, his stride became wonderful. He absorbed all 
attention, completely overshadowing Svkcs and Freckle- 
face. 



A Fourth of July Celebration 145 

With insolent visage and turbulent action, he stepped 
before Ranee. " Want to fight, do ye ? Well, come 
on. I'll lick you into strips." 

Ranee was silent with rage, but Ben twisted his 
upper lip into a comical leer, and said : — 

" What'll we be doin' ? " 

" You dassent fight." 

" We dassent ? " 

" No." 

" We'll show you in about a minute whether we 
dast or not." 

" I dare ye to come back into the alley." 

" Go on," said Ranee, and at the tone of his voice 
the fat boy paled a little. Ranee was white-hot with 
anger, and his eyes burned with dangerous intensity. 

'' Come on, fellers," commanded the fat general, and 
led the way back of the post-office, upon a vacant lot, 
where a number of horses were eating hay out of 
wagons. To Lincoln this had all the solemnity of 
war to the death. It was the country against the 
town. His headache was swallowed up in a sort of 
blurring numbness. He had forgotten who they were 
or what they came for, except that now battle was 
impending and that they must sell their lives as dearly 
as possible. That was the phrase always used by the 
scouts in Boodle's dime novels. Remembering that, 
he took a last look at the sun and faced the enemy. 
He kept a watchful eye on Freckles, for since the 
coming of the fat boy, Sykes had shifted his calculating 
eyes to Ranee. 



146 Boy Life on the Prairie 

At last, just beside a barn, and hedged in by a fence 
on two sides, the armies took position. The rank and 
file of both sides were dolefully silent. The challenges 
were uttered by the commanders, and for a few moments 
words flew like brickbats. 

The fat boy was game for war. He put a piece of 
shingle on his shoulder at last and said, " I dare ye ! " 

Ben knocked it off with his left hand, and swatted the 
general's insolent cheek with his right, and in a moment 
the two were rolling in the dust, and Sykes and Ranee 
were at it, hammer and tongs. PVeckles charged sav- 
agely upon Lincoln, and with that, all the forces became 
engaged. In the first rush Freckles carried Lincoln to 
the ground, but could not hold him there. The first 
blow in his face seemed to transform the world. There- 
after he saw nothing but the strange, savage face of his 
assailant, though he leaped again and again, striking at it 
blindly. Sometimes he hit, and at last a stream of blood 
trickled down the freckled face. Then he rushed, and 
Lincoln went to the ground again, and there writhed, 
choking, gasping, till a cry from Owen pierced the blur 
ot his senses. 

" Link, Link, help ! He's chokin' me." 

With a sudden surge of strength Lincoln rose, and 
flinging his assailant away, with a cry of rage leaped 
upon and tore the assailant off his brother, who was 
weeping and gasping for breath. As he fought the 
murderer with foot and hand, he heard a loud cry of 
pain, and looking up, saw Ranee with a long sliver of 
board in his hand, battling back the redoubtable Sykes 



A Fourth of July Celebration 147 

and Freckles. His face was set in a dangerous smile, 
and every sweep of his weapon brought fo'"th a yell of 
pain. Sticks, stones, pieces of bricks, began to fly, and 
the country troops were just getting warmed to the 
work, when the town-dwellers suddenly scattered like a 
covey of prairie chickens, leaving the Sun Prairie forces 
amazed and inert. What was the cause of their sudden 
flight ? It was deeply suspicious. 

Around the end of the barn appeared a small man 
with a star on his coat, and all was explained. It was 
the City Marshal. 

Walking up to Ben, he wound his hand in his collar, 
and said, " See here, what's all this row about ? " 

Lincoln's blood was hot, and his heart big with a sort 
of desperate courage. 

" Oh yes, that's right. Jump on us and let the town 
boys go." 

The Marshal looked up at him. " Oh, you're from 
the country, are you ? What's your name ? " 

" Lincoln Stewart. Them boys pitched into us, an' 
you arrest us. If my folks was here, you wouldn't do it." 

" Shut up," said the Marshal. " What's your name ? " 
he said to Ben. 

" Ben Hutchison." 

" And yours ? " 

" Milton Jennings, and that's Ranee Knapp. If you 
want the votes of Sun Prairie, you better let us alone," 
replied Milton, who was a good deal of a politician, and 
knew the Marshal's tender spot. 

The Marshal released Ben. He was a candidate for 



148 Boy Life on the Prairie 

party nomination as sheriff, and besides, he knew the 
families very well. 

" What was it all about ? " he asked in a more reason- 
able way. Lincoln told him. 

He smiled. " I'm from the country myself. You 
flailed 'em out, didn't you ? " he said to Ranee. 

" I tried to." 

" Did you know the boys ? " 

" Yes." 

" Who were they ? " 

Ben started to reply. 

" Keep quiet," commanded Ranee. " We're satis- 
fied as long as you don't arrest us. If you're going to 
arrest anybody, you've got to take us all." 

Owen began to cry, and Humboldt looked very much 
alarmed. 

" Well, now I'll tell you, boys. Seein's you are all 
from the country, and seein's them ragamuffins set upon 
ye, I'll let ye go. But I can't have anv more rowin' 
here. You better put out for home and get washed up. 
You look like you'd been run through a separator. 
Now, hyper," he added, with the air of being very 
gracious. 

The boys stood in a knot, waiting until the officer 
reentered the saloon from which he had emerged -, then 
Ben said : — 

" I move we stay to the fireworks, and show 'em 
we're not afraid." 

But Lincoln, whose headache was returning, said, 
" I'm going home." 



A Fourth of July Celebration 149 

" So am I," said Milton, who was pale with a head- 
ache. 

Under the circumstances it was unsafe for the rem- 
nant of the army to remain, and so they, too, went away, 
claiming a victory. 

The glory of the day had departed for Lincoln. The 
noise and excitement had produced a blinding pain just 
back of his left eye, and the poisonous mixture of sweets 
and drinks had given him a sickness at his stomach, 
which was torture. Every leap of his horse seemed 
likely to split his poor head. Owen and Milton were 
almost as badly off, and Ranee looked rather morose. 

There was little talk on the way home. They rode 
rapidly, alternating the fox canter with the walk. As 
they journeyed, the sun sank behind a big bank of 
clouds. Teams clattered along, raising prodigious clouds 
of dust, the wagon-boxes filled with fretful, wailing 
children — they, too, were suffering from unaccustomed 
noise and soda-water and candy. 

At the corner by the school-house, Ranee and Milton 
turned off, and Lincoln and Owen rode on. They were 
so sick they could hardly put their horses in the barn, 
and when they crawled into the house, Mr. Stewart 
said : " Sick, are you ? " and added disgustedly, " If 
you'd eat a little decent food and let ' truck ' alone, you'd 
come home able to walk." 

" Let 'em alone, father," said Mrs. Stewart. " They 
know that as well as anybody. Now, for land sakes ! 
what marked you all up like that ? And look at your 
clothes ! Well, you are in nice shape." 



150 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" We licked 'em, anyway," chirped Owen. 

" Licked 'em r Licked who ? " 

" The town boys. And the Sheriff was going to 
arrest us, an' Mikon scared him off." 

Mrs. Stewart looked helplessly at her husband. 

"Well, now, Duncan, what do you 'spose the young 
'uns have been into ? " 

"Send 'em to bed. We'll hear all about it in the 
morning," he replied, resuming his newspaper. 

Weak, dizzy, groaning with pain, Lincoln and Owen 
crawled up the stairs to their beds. The Glorious 
Fourth, their outing, was over, and their dollars were 
gone to the purchase of a dreadful headache, but of such 
were the ways of boys. 




CHAPTER XII 



HIRED MEN 



The " hands " of Sun Prai- 
rie, even those hired by the 
month, were a source of great 
interest to Lincohi and Owen, Each March brought 
a new personality into the home — sometimes a disa- 
greeable and dangerous one, occasionally a fairly inter- 
esting one. Some of them could play the violin or 
sing, and so brought new music into the family. Others 
were famous dancers. Too often they were coarse and 
vicious and given to low amusements, especially those 
who came to help in haying and harvest. 

However, a very distinct line was drawn between the 
day-hand and the hired man. The hired man entered 
the family, and his character was a consideration at the 
start. Mr. Stewart always got at the antecedents of 
his help if possible. With a fair chance, Lincoln was 
disposed to make a hero of each new-comer, and brag 
about him to the other boys of the neighborhood. 



152 Boy Life on the Prairie 

who had their own accomplished hired men to cele- 
brate. 

Jack, the first hired man, was a most amazing dancer 
of negro breakdowns, and the boys delighted to get him 
at it of an evening in the kitchen, and patted "juber" 
for him, while he shuffled and double-shuffled and hoed- 
down and side-stepped, and drummed with heel and toe 
on the floor till Mrs. Stewart cried out, " For Peter's 
sake ! stop that racket." 

He was a small man, hardy and willing, comically 
ignorant, but a handy man to spear fish, a famous swim- 
mer, and always good-tempered and ready for fun. The 
boys liked him very well indeed, but ignored his advice. 
They bragged of his dancing, not of his beauty. He 
stayed till snow fell, then went away to the pinery, and 
was seen no more. 

The next one came from Tama County, and was 
called " Tama Bill." He was a comical fellow, who 
spoke with a drawl, and became famous for his boastful 
references to " Tamy Caounty." " Why, talk about 
soil," said he, " the black soil of Tamy beats the world. 
Leave a crowbar in the ground over night, and ye can 
pick a handful of tenpenny nails off of it in the morn- 
ing." He was a perpetual circus, — at least the clown 
part of it, — but he was slack and slow, and left just 
before harvest. 

One curious type was an old Cornishman, whom 
the boys could hardly understand, so uncouth was his 
pronunciation of the simplest words. He always seemed 
a pathetic figure to Lincoln — to be so old, and lonely. 



Hired Men 



153 



and far from home ! Another, equally curious, was a 
near-sighted old German, who read everything, — Scott, 
Dickens, dime novels, weekly story-papers, — anything 
that contained a tale. He claimed a university educa- 
tion, and in truth his diction was always good, and his 
manner grave and sedate. He was not handsome to 
look at, but he was of much finer type than some of 
the drunken young daredevils who made sport of him. 
He knew the plots of all the stories of Scott and Dumas, 
and Lincoln and Ranee delighted to get him spinning 
them out in his broken English. They also read his 
story-papers, and the gayly colored dime novels, which 
dealt mainly with Indians and scouts, and filled them 
with longing to be as these heroes in fringed buckskin 
jackets — but they were far too cautious of temperament 
to run away, as several boys in Rock River did. 

Old Jacob read bushels of these tales, holding the 
page so near his eyes it seemed his eyelash must touch. 
His end was tragic. He became blind and helpless, and 
was taken care of by the town, and died far away from 
kith and kin. Others followed him on the farm ; brisk, 
hardy young fellows, who bought teams, and began busi- 
ness for themselves. They made less impression on 
Lincoln, but they were better hired men. They were 
made to seem commonplace, also, by the troops of 
nomads from the south who swept over the country, 
like a visitation of locusts, in harvest, reckless young 
fellows, handsome, profane, licentious, given to drink, 
powerful but inconstant workmen, quarrelsome and diffi- 
cult to manage at all times. They came in the season 



1^4 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

when work was plenty and wages high, and were very 
independent of bearing. They dressed well, in their own 
peculiar fashion, and on Saturday night and Sunday 
spent their wages in mad reyels in the country along the 
riyer, where a couple of road-houses furnished harbor 
and amusement for their like. " We take no orders 
from any man," they often said, and made much of 
their freedom to come and go. 

Each had a small hand-bag, which contained a change 
of clothing and a few personal knickknacks. Many of 
them bought the Police Recorder^ and carried pictures of 
variety actresses, which pleased their coarse tastes. 
When dressed in their best they were dashing fellows. 
They wore close-fitting, high-heeled boots of calfskin, 
dark trousers, with a silk handkerchief in the hip pocket, 
a colored shirt with gay armlets, and a vest, genteelly 
left unbuttoned. A showy watch-chain, a big signet- 
ring (useful in fighting), and a soft black hat completed 
a costume easy and not without grace. They gener- 
ally hunted in couples, helping each other out at work 
and in scrimmages on Sunday. The fights were furious 
and noisy, but not deadly. The revolver was not in 
common use on the prairie. The traditions were against 
it. "Tussling" and biting were common. 

There were those, even of this nomadic army, of a 
different class, — men of good bringing up, who were 
working to get a start, and it often happened that such 
men remained as hired men, or paid court to some girl, 
became a farmer's son-in-law, rented a quarter-section, 
and settled down. Hut for the most part the harvest 



Hired Men 155 

hands passed on to the north, mysterious as the flight of 
locusts, leaving the people of Sun Prairie quite as igno- 
rant of their real names and characters as upon the 
first day of their coming. 

To Lincoln there was immense fascination in these 
men. They came from distant lands. They told of 
the city, and sinister and poisonous jungles all cities 
seemed, in their stories. They were scarred with 
battles. Some of them openly joked of " boarding at 
the State's expense." They came from the far-away and 
unknown, and planned journeys to other States, the 
very names of which were poems to Lincoln, and then 
they passed without so much as a courteous good-by 
to the boy who admired, and sometimes loved them. 
Sometimes a broken-hearted girl wept in secret over 
their going, for they appealed with even greater power 
to the farmers' daughters. 

Among them each season were men of great physical 
beauty and strength ; men who carelessly asked, " Who 
is vour best man ? " and then straightway challenged 
him to combat. They were generally accommodated, 
for the country held some half dozen men who consid- 
ered themselves invincible, and who welcomed ambitious 
strangers with closed fists. One of these was Steve 
Nagle, a magnificently proportioned young fellow, but 
pock-marked of face, with a shapeless and cruel mouth. 
When sober he was likely to take offence, but when in 
liquor he dreamed of dominion over the world. Stories 
of his exploits abounded among the boys, who admired, 
and feared, and hated him. 



156 Boy Life on the Prairie 

His favorite amusement, when inflamed with whiskev, 
was to enter a saloon suddenly, and snarl : — 

" Git out o' here.. Every blank blank blank ! " 

And thcv got ! They crawled on the floor, they 
jumped through the windows, anyway to get out, while 
Steve walked the floor, and laughed like a hyena in 
enjoyment of his joke. 

If any of the harvest hands desired trouble, they could 
always get it, by merely crossing Steve's path, and to 
refuse to move at his bidding. Not a Saturday night 
passed without some self-confident person contributing 
another good story of Steve's method of entertainment. 
Monday morning was usually filled with half-told stories 
of Saturday night's debaucheries. 

There were but three men in the country whom the 
boys believed to be Steve's equal. They were Jim 
Moriarty, the sheriff who whipped the counterfeiter; 
Dan, his brother, whom nobody but Jim dared to face ; 
and Lime Gilman, a big, good-natured, golden-haired, 
slope-shouldered giant, who came along the road one 
spring day and hired out to old man Bacon, and married 
his daughter, Marietta, in less than a month. Bacon 
was tremendously incensed at first, but became recon- 
ciled, and put the young couple on his lower eighty, 
which diamond-cornered with the Stewart farm. 

The boys loved Lime and made him their hero at 
once. His face was almost always shining with a smile, 
and his blue eyes gleamed good-naturedly on man and 
beast. His voice was so soft and low it expressed weak- 
ness, or at least laziness, but it was in truth a very 



Hired Men 157 

deceptive peculiarity. He loved horses and dogs and 
children, and they all obeyed him instantly. He knew 
no poetry or history, could barely cipher out the price of 
a load of barley, and had not travelled much, and yet 
he never uttered a word that was not, somehow, inter- 
esting to his hearers. Part of this was due to his natural 
reticence, and part to his manner of speech, which made 
even a statement of fact worth listening to. 

It was six months before the men even suspected his 
enormous strength. Lincoln and Owen knew it first, 
for he occasionally did wonderful things to please them, 
such as tossing a two-bushel sack of wheat over the 
wheel of the wagon, or slyly lifting one wheel of the 
threshing-machine, or holding an iron sledge at arm's- 
length. These things he did with a smile of amusement 
at the round-eyed admiration of the boys, saying, 
" When you can do this, boys, demand full pay." 

These things the boys promptly related to their father 
and the other hired men, in order to get a comparison of 
strength. The other young fellows strained at bags of 
shot and the sledge, and professed to believe Lincoln 
was mistaken. In one sly way and another, the boys 
got Lime to widen his fame, till his giant strength be- 
came known. Clothing concealed his muscles. When 
stripped for swimming he seemed twenty pounds heavier, 
so enormous were his arms and shoulders. The calves 
of his legs would not go into the tops of his boots, and 
he always looked untidy, because his boot-legs were 
wrinkled or slit, to admit his vast muscles. He could 
split the sleeve of a new coat by doubling up his arm. 



158 Boy Life on the Prairie 

At last all the young men of the neighborhood 
acknowledged his superiority. He could outjump and 
outlift them all. He could set a bear-trap with his 
hands, and hold a boy on a chair at arm's-length. He 
could throw the maul ten feet beyond the best man, and 
turn headsprings with his arms folded. Only for his 
friends, and after much urging, would he put himself on 
display, and a year went by before his fame reached the 
bar-rooms, for he very seldom so much as entered a 
saloon. He had never met ''Big Ole " or the " Yancv 
boys " or Steve Nagle, when hot with liquor, and in 
cool blood not one of these redoubtables cared to 
measure forearms with him. His calm blue eye was a 
powerful check to indiscriminate assault. 

Steve Nagle had at times uttered a desire to meet him, 
but only when excited with drink among his cronies, and 
when his challenge was conveyed to the big fellow. Lime 
merely laughed, and said, " He knows where I live." 

Steve was one of a group of men gathered in Coun- 
cill's barn one rainy day in September ; the rain had 
stopped the stacking, and the men were amusing them- 
selves with feats of skill and strength. Steve was easily 
champion, no matter what came up ; whether shoulder- 
ing a sack of wheat, or raising weights, or suspending him- 
self with one hand, he left the others out of the game. 

" Aw ! it's no good foolun' with such puny little 
men as you," he swaggered at last, throwing himself 
down upon a pile of sacks. 

" If Lime Oilman was here, I bet he'd beat you all 
holler," piped Owen from the doorway. 



Hired Men 



^S9 



Steve raised himself up and glared. 

" What's that thing talkun' ? " 

Owen held his ground. " You can brag when he 
ain't around, but I bet he can lick you with one hand 
tied behind him ; don't you, Link? " 

Lincoln was doubtful, and kept a little out of sight. 
He was afraid of Steve. Owen went on about his 
hero : — 

" Why, he can take a sack of wheat by the corners 
and snap every kernel of it clean out ; he can lift a 
separator just as easy ! You'd better not brag when 
he's around." 

Steve's anger rose, for the others were laughing ; he 
glared around at them all like a wolf. " Bring on your 
wonder ; let's see how he looks." 

" Pa says if Lime went to a saloon where you'd meet 
him once, you wouldn't clean out that saloon," Owen 
went on calmly, with a distinct undercurrent of glee in 
his voice. 

" Bring on this feller ; I'll knock the everlasting spots 
ofFen 'im f'r two cents." 

"I'll tell 'im that." 

" Tell him and be damned," roared Steve, with a 
wolfish gleam in his eyes that drove the boys away 
whooping with mingled terror and delight. 

Steve well understood that the men about him held 
Owen's opinion of Lime, and it made him furious. His 
undisputed sovereignty over the saloons of Rock County 
was in doubt. 

Lime was out mending fence when Owen came 



i6o Boy Life on the Prairie 

along to tell him what Steve had said. The boy was 
anxious to have his faith in his hero justified, and watched 
Lime carefully as he pounded away without looking up. 
His dress had an easy slouch about his vast limbs, and 
his pantaloons were tucked into his boot-tops, his vest 
swinging unbuttoned, his hat carelessly awry. 

" He says he can knock the spots off of you," 
Owen said, in conclusion, watching Lime roguishly. 

The giant finished nailing up the fence, and at last 
said, " Now run along, sonny, and git the cows." 
There was a laugh in his voice that showed his amuse- 
ment at Owen's disappointment. " I ain't got any 
spots." 

On the following Saturday night, at dusk, as Lime 
was smoking his pipe out on the horse-block, and telling 
stories to Lincoln and Owen, a swiftly driven wagon 
came rattling down the road, filled with a noisy load of 
men. The driver pulled up at the gate, with a prodig- 
ious shouting. 

''Hello, Lime!" 

" Hello, the house ! " 

" Hurrah for the show ! " 

" It's Al Crandall," cried Owen, running down to the 
gate. Lime followed slowly, and asked, " What's up, 
boys ? " 

" All goin' down to the show ; climb in ! " 

"All right; wait till I git my coat." 

" Oh, can't we go. Lime ? " pleaded Owen. 

" If your dad'll let you ; I'll pay for the tickets." 

The boys rushed wildly home and as wildly back 



Hired Men i6i 

again, and the team resumed its swift course, for it was 
getting late. It was a beautiful autumn night •, the full 
moon poured down a cataract of silent white light like 
spray, and the dew (almost frost) lay on the grass and 
reflected the glory of the sky ; the air was still and had 
that peculiar property, common to the prairie air, of 
carrying sound to a great distance. 

The road was hard and smooth, and the spirited little 
team bowled the heavy wagon along at a swift pace. 
"We're late," Crandall said, as he snapped his long 
whip over the heads of his horses, " and we've got to 
make it in twenty-five minutes or miss part of the 
show." This caused Lincoln great anxiety. He had 
never seen a play and wanted to see it all. He looked 
at the flying legs of the horses and pushed on the dash- 
board, chirping at them slyly. 

To go to town was an event, but to go with the men 
at night, and to a show, was something to remember a 
lifetime. 

There was little talk as they rushed along, only some 
singing of a dubious sort by Bill Young, on the back 
seat. At intervals Bill stopped singing and leaned over 
to say, in exactly the same tone of voice each time, 
" Al, I hope t' God we won't be late." Then resumed 
his monotonous singing, or said something coarse to 
Rice, who laughed immoderately. 

The play had begun when they climbed the narrow, 
precarious stairway which led to the door of the hall. 
Every seat of the room was filled ; but as for the boys, 
after getting their eyes upon the players, they did not 



1 62 Bov Life on the Prairie 

think of sitting, or of moving, for that matter ; they 
were literally all eves and ears. 

The hall seated about three hundred persons, and the 
stage added considerably to the fun of the evening by 
the squeaks it gave out as the heavy man walked across, 
as well as by the falling down of the calico wings at 
inopportune moments. At the back of the room the 
benches rose one above the other until those who occu- 
pied the rear seats almost touched the grimy ceiling. 
These benches were occupied by the toughs of the 
town, who treated each other to peanuts and slapped 
each other over the head with their soft, shapeless hats, 
and laughed inordinately when some other fellow's cap 
was thrown out of his reach into the crowd. 

The play was Wilkie Collins's "New Magdalen," and 
the part of " Mercy " was taken by a large and magnifi- 
cently proportioned woman, a blonde, and in Lincoln's 
eyes she was queenly in grace and majesty of motion. 
He took a personal pride in her at once and wanted her 
to come out triumphant in the end, regardless of any 
conventional morality. 

True, his admiration for the dark little woman's tragic 
utterance at times drew him away from his breathless 
study of the queenly " Mercy," but such moments were 
few. Within a half-hour he was deeply in love with 
her and wondered how she could possibly endure the fat 
man who played the part of " Horace," and who pitched 
into the " practicable " supper of cold ham, biscuit, and 
currant wine with a gusto that suggested gluttony as the 
reason for his growing burden of flesh. 



Hired Men 163 

And so the play went on. The wonderful old lady 
in the cap and spectacles, the mysterious dark little 
woman who popped in at short intervals to say " Be- 
ware ! " in a very deep contralto voice, the tender and 
repentant " Mercy," all were new and wonderful and 
beautiful things to the boys, and though they stood up 
the whole evening through, it passed so swiftly that the 
curtain's fall drew from them long sighs of regret. 
From that time on Lincoln dreamed of that wonderful 
play and that beautiful, repentant woman. So securely 
was she enthroned in his regard that no rude and sense- 
less jest could ever unseat her. Of course, the men, as 
they went out, laughed and joked in the manner of such 
men, and swore in their disappointment because it was 
a serious drama in place of a comedy and the farce 
which they had expected. 

"It's a regular sell," Bill said. "I wanted to hear 
old Plunket 'stid of all that stuff about nothin'. That 
was a lunkin' good-lookin' woman though," he added, 
with a coarse suggestion in his voice, which exasperated 
Lincoln to the pitch of giving him a kick on the heel as 
he walked in front. *' Hyare, young feller, look where 
you're puttin' your hoofs ! " Bill growled, looking about. 

Lincoln was comforted by seeing in the face of his 
brother the same rapt expression which he felt was 
on his own. He walked along almost mechanically, 
scarcely feeling the sidewalk, his thoughts still dwelling 
on the lady and the play. It was after ten o'clock, and 
the stores were all shut, the frost lay thick and white on 
the plank walk, and the moon was shining as only a 



164 Boy Life on the Prairie 

moon can shine through the rarefied air on the Western 
prairies, and overhead the stars in innumerable hosts 
swam in the absolutely cloudless sky. 

Owen stumbled along, keeping hold of Lime's hand 
till they reached the team standing at the sidewalk, 
shivering with cold. The impatient horses stretched 
their stiffened limbs with pleasure and made off with a 
rearing plunge. The men were noisy. Bill sang an- 
other song at the top of his voice as they rattled by the 
sleeping houses, but as he came to an objectionable part 
of the song Lime turned suddenly and said, "Shut up 
on that, will you ? " and he became silent. 

Rock Rivers, after the most extraordinary agitation, 
had just prohibited the sale of liquor at any point 
within two miles of the school-house in the town. This, 
after strenuous opposition, was enforced ; the immediate 
effect of the law was to establish saloons at the limit of 
the two miles and to throw a large increase of business 
into the hands of Hank Swartz in the retail part of his 
brewery, which was situated about two miles from the 
town, on the bank of the river. He had immediately 
built a bar-room and made himself ready for the increase 
of his trade, which had prc\'iously been confined to sup- 
plying picnic parties with half-kegs of beer or an occa- 
sional glass to teamsters passing by. Hank had an eye 
to the main chance and boasted, " If the public gits 
ahead of me, it's got to be up and a-comin'." 

The road alono; which Crandall was driving did not 
lead to Hank's place, but the river road, which branched 
off a little farther on, went by the brewery, though it 



Hired Men 165 

was a longer way around. The men grew silent at last, 
and the steady roll and rumble of the wagon over the 
smooth road was soothing, and Owen laid his head in 
Lime's lap and fell asleep while looking at the moon and 
wondering why it always seemed to go just as fast as the 
team. 

He was awakened by a series of wild yells, the snap- 
ping of whips, and the furious rush of horses. Another 
team filled with harvesters was trying to pass, and not 
succeedino;. The fellows in the other wagon hooted and 
howled. The driver cracked the whip, but Al's little 
bays kept them behind until Lime protested, " Oh, let 
'em go, Al," and then with a shout of glee the team 
went by and left them in a cloud of dust. 

" Say, boys," said Bill, " that was Pat Sheehan and 
the Nagle boys. They've turned off; they're goin' 
down to Hank's. Let's go, too. Come on, fellers, 
what d'you say ? I'm all-fired dry. Ain't you ? " 

" I'm willun'," said Frank Rice ; " what d'you say. 
Lime ? " Lincoln looked up into Lime's face and said 
to him, in a low voice, "Let's go home ; that was Steve 
a-drivin'." Lime nodded and made a sign of silence, 
but Lincoln saw his head lift. He had heard and recog- 
nized Steve's voice. 

" It was Pat Sheehan, sure," repeated Bill, " an' I 
shouldn't wonder if the others was the Nagle boys and 
Eth Cole." 

" Yes, it was Steve," said Al. " I saw his old hat as 
he went by." 

It was perfectly intelligible to Lime that they were all 



1 66 Boy Life on the Prairie 

anxious to have a meeting between Steve and himself. 
Lincoln also understood that if Lime refused to go to 
the brewery he would be called a coward. Bill would 
tell it all over the neighborhood, and his hero would be 
shamed. At last Lime nodded his head in consent, and 
Al turned off" into the river road. 

When they drew up at the brewery by the river, the 
other fellows had all entered, and the door was shut. 
There were two or three other teams hitched about 
under the trees. The men sprang out, and Bill danced 
a jig in anticipation of the fun to follow. " If Steve 
starts to lam Lime, there'll be a circus." 

As they stood for a moment before the door, Al spoke 
to Lime about Steve's probable attack. " I ain't goin' 
to hunt around for no row," replied Lime, placidly, 
"and I don't believe Steve is. You lads," he said to 
the boys, " watch the team for a little while ; cuddle 
down under the blankets if you git cold. It ain't no 
place for you in the inside. We won't stop long," he 
ended cheerily. 

The door opened and let out a dull red light, closed 
again, and all was still except an occasional burst of 
laughter and the noise of heavy feet within. The scene 
made an indelible impress upon Lincoln. Fifty feet away 
the river sang over its shallows, broad and whitened with 
foam which gleamed like frosted silver in the brilliant 
moonlight. The trees were dark and tall about him and 
loomed overhead against the starlit sky, and the broad, 
high moon threw a thick tracery of shadows on the 
dusty white road where the horses stood. Only the 



Hired Men 167 

rhythmic flow of the broad, swift river, with the occa- 
sional uneasy movement of the horses under their creak- 
ing harnesses or the dull noise of the shouting men within 
the shanty, was to be heard. 

Owen nestled down into the robes and took to dream- 
ing of the lovely lady he had seen, and wondered if, when 
he became a man, he should have a wife like her. He 
was awakened by Lincoln, who was rousing him to serve 
a purpose of his own. He rubbed his sleepy eyes and 
rose under orders. 

" Say, Owen, what d'yeh s'pose them fellers are doen' 
in there ? You said Steve was goin' to lick Lime, you 
did. It don't sound much like it in there. Hear 'um 
laugh," he said viciously and regretfully. " Say, Owen, 
you sly along and peek in and see what they're up to, 
an' come an' tell me, while I hold the horses," he said, 
to hide the fact that Owen was doing a good deal for 
his benefit. 

Owen got slowly off the wagon and hobbled on toward 
the saloon, stiff with cold. As he neared the door he 
could hear some one talking in a loud voice, while the 
rest laughed at intervals in the manner of those who are 
listening to the good points in a story. Not daring to 
open the door, Owen stood around the front, trying to 
find a crevice to look in at. The speaker inside 
had finished his joke, and some one had begun sing- 
ing. 

The building was a lean-to attached to the brewery, 
and was a rude and hastily constructed affair. It had 
only two windows : one was on the side and the other 



1 68 Boy Life on the Prairie 

on the back. The window on the side was out of 
Owen's reach, so he went to the back of the shanty. 
It was built partly into the hill, and the window was 
at the top of the bank. Owen found that by lying 
down on the ground on the outside he had a sood 
view of the interior. The window, while level with 
the ground on the outside, was about as high as the 
face of a man on the inside. The boy was extremely 
wide-awake now and peered in at the scene with round, 
unblinking eyes. 

Steve was making sport for the rest and stood lean- 
ing his elbow on the bar. He was in rare good humor, 
for him. His hat was lying beside him, and he was in 
his shirt-sleeves, and his cruel gray eyes, pock-marked 
face, and broken nose were lighted up with a frightful 
smile. He was good-natured now, but the next drink 
might set him wild. Hank stood behind the high pine 
bar, a broad but nervous grin on his round, red face. 
Two big kerosene lamps, through a couple of smoky 
chimneys, sent a dull red glare upon the company, 
which half filled the room. 

If Steve's face was unpleasant to look upon, the 
nonchalant, tiger-like poise and flex of his body was 
not. He had been dancing, it seemed, and had thrown 
off his coat, and as he talked he repeatedly rolled his 
blue shirt-sleeves up and down as though the motion 
were habitual with him. Most of the men were sitting 
around the room, looking on and laughing at Steve's 
antics and the antics of one or two others who were 
just drunk enough to make fools of themselves. Two 



Hired Men 169 

or three sat on an old billiard table under the window 
through which Owen was peering. 

Lime sat in characteristic attitude, his elbows upon 
his knees and his thumbs under his chin. His eyes 
were lazily raised now and then with a lion-like action 
of the muscles of his forehead. But he seemed to take 
little interest in the ribaldry of the other fellows. Owen 
measured both champions critically, and exulted in the 
feeling that Steve was not so ready for the row with 
Lime as he thought he was. 

After Steve had finished his story there was a chorus 
of roars : " Bully for you, Steve ! " " Give us another," 
etc. Steve, much flattered, nodded to the alert saloon- 
keeper, and said, " Give us another. Hank." As the 
rest all sprang up, he added : " Pull out that brandy 
kaig this time. Hank. Trot her out, you white-livered 
Dutchman ! " he roared, as Swartz hesitated. 

The brewer fetched it up from beneath the bar, but 
he did it reluctantly. In the midst of the hubbub thus 
produced, an abnormally tall and lanky fellow known 
as " High " Bedloe pushed up to the bar and made an 
effort to speak, and finally did say, solemnly : — 

" Gen'lmun, Steve, say, gen'lmun, do'n' less mix our 
drinks ! " 

This was received with boisterous laughter. Bedloe 
could not see the joke, and looked feebly astonished. 

Just at this point Owen received such a fright as 
entirely took away his powers of moving or breathing, 
for something laid hold of his heels with deadly grip. 
He was getting his breath to yell when a familiar voice 



lyo Boy Life on the Prairie 

at his ear said, in a tone somewhere between a whisper 
and a groan : — 

"Say, what they up to all this while? I'm sick o' 
wait'n' out there." 

Lincoln had become impatient ; as for Owen, he had 
been so absorbed by the scenes within, he had not 
noticed that the frosty ground had stiffened his limbs 
and set his teeth chattering. Owen simply pointed 
with his mittened, stubby thumb toward the interior, 
and Lincoln crawled along to a place beside him. 

Mixing the drinks had produced the disastrous effect 
which Hank and Bedloe had anticipated. The fun 
became uproarious. There were songs and dances by 
various members of the Nagle gang, but Lime's crowd, 
being in the minority, kept quiet, occasionally standing 
treat, as was the proper thing to do. 

But Steve grew wilder and more irritable every mo- 
ment. He seemed to have drunk just enough to let 
loose the terrible force that slept in his muscles. He 
tugged at his throat until the strings of his woollen 
shirt loosened, displaying the great, sloping muscles 
of his neck and shoulders, white as milk and hard as 
iron. His eyes rolled restlessly as he paced the floor. 
His panther-like step was full of a terrible suggestive- 
ness. The breath of the boys at the window came 
quicker and quicker. Steve was working himself into 
a rage that threatened momentarily to break forth into 
a violence. He realized that this was a crisis in his 
career ; his reputation was at stake. 

Young as Owen was, he understood the whole mat- 



Hired Men 171 

ter as he studied the restless Steve, and compared him 
with his impassive hero, sitting immovable. 

" You see Lime can't go away," he explained breath- 
lessly to Lincoln in a whisper, " 'cause they'd tell it 
all over the country that he backed down for Steve. 
He daresn't leave." 

" Steve ain't no durn fool," replied Lincoln, with 
superior wisdom. " See Lime there, cool as a cucum- 
ber. He's from the pineries, he is." He ended in a 
tone of voice intended to convey that fighting was the 
principal study of the pineries, and that Lime had gradu- 
ated with the highest honors. " Steve ain't a-go'n' to 
pitch into him yet awhile, you bet your bottom dollar; 
he ain't drunk enough for that." 

Each time the invitation for another drink was given, 
they noticed that Lime kept on the outside of the crowd, 
and some one helped him to his glass. " Don't you see 
he ain't drinkin'. He's throwin' it away," said Lincoln ; 
" there, see ! He ain't goin' to be drunk when Steve 
tackles him. Oh, there'll be music in a minute or 
two." 

Steve now walked the floor, pouring forth a flood of 
profanity and challenges against men who were not 
present. He had not brought himself to the point of 
attacking the unmoved and silent giant. Some of the 
younger men, and especially the pleader against mixed 
drinks, had succumbed, and were sleeping heavily on the 
back end of the bar and on the billiard table. Hank 
was getting anxious, and the forced smile on his face 
was painful to see. Over the whole group there was a 



172 Boy Life on the Prairie 

singular air of waiting. No one was enjoying himself, 
and all wished that they were on the road home, but 
there was no way out of it now. It was evident that 
Lime purposed forcing the beginning of the battle on 
Steve. He sat in statuesque repose. 

Steve had his hat in his hand and held it doubled up 
like a club, and every time he turned in his restless walk 
he struck the bar a resounding blow. His eyes seemed to 
see nothing, although they moved wildlv from side to side. 

He lifted up his voice in a snarl. " I'm the man that 
struck Billy Patterson I I'm the man that bunted the 
bull off the bridge ! Anybody got anything to sav, 
now's his time. I'm here. Bring on your champion. 
I'm the wildcat of the prairie." 

Foam came into the corners of his mouth, and the 
veins stood out on his neck. His red face shone with 
its swollen veins. He smashed his fists together, threw 
his hat on the floor, tramped on it, snarling out curses. 
Nothing kept him in check save the imperturbability of 
the seated figure. Everybody expected him to clear the 
saloon to prove his power. 

Bedloe, who was asleep on the table, precipitated 
matters by rolling off with a prodigious noise amid a 
pandemonium of howls and laughter. In his anxiety to 
see what was going on, Lincoln thrust his head violently 
against the window, and it crashed in, sending the glass 
rattling down on the tabic. 

Steve looked up, a red sheen in his eyes like that of a 
wild beast. Instantly his fury burst out against this new 
object of attention — a wild, unreasoning rage. 



Hired Men 173 

" What you doen' there ? Who air ye, ye mangy 
little dog ? " 

Both boys sank back in tumultuous, shuddering haste, 
and rolled down the embankment. They heard the voice 
of Steve thundering, " Fetch the little whelp here ! " 

There was a rush from the inside, a sudden outpour- 
ing, and the next moment Owen felt a hand touch his 
shoulder. Steve dragged him around to the front of the 
saloon before he could draw his breath or utter a sound. 
The rest crowded around. 

" What are y' doen' there ? " said Steve, shaking him 
with insane vindictiveness. 

" Drop that boy ! " said Lime. " Drop that boy ! " 
he repeated, and his voice had a peculiar sound, as if it 
came through his teeth. 

Steve dropped him, and turned with a grating snarl 
upon Lime, who opened his way through the excited 
crowd while Owen stumbled, leaped, and crawled out 
of the ring and joined Lincoln. 

"Oh, it's you, is it? You white-livered — " He 
did not finish, for the arm of the blond giant shot out 
against his face like a beetle, and down he rolled on the 
grass. The sound of the blow made Owen utter an 
involuntary cry. 

" No human bein' could have stood up agin that 
blow," Crandall said afterwards. " It was like a mule 
a-kickin'." 

As Steve bounded to his feet, the silence was so great 
Owen could hear the thumping of his heart and the 
fierce, almost articulate breathing of Steve. The chatter 



174 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

and roar of the drunken crowd had been silenced by this 
encounter of the giants. The open door, where Hank 
stood, sent a reddish bar of light upon the two men as 
they faced each other with a sort of terrific calm. In 
his swift gaze in search of his brother, Lincoln noticed 
the dark wood, the river murmuring drowsily over its 
foam-wreathed pebbles, and saw his brother's face white 
with excitement, but not fear. 

Lime's blow had dazed Steve for a moment, but at 
the same time it had sobered him. He came to his feet 
with a curse which sounded like the swelling snarl of a 
tiger. He had been taken by surprise before, and he 
now came forward with his hands in position, to vindi- 
cate his terrible reputation. The two men met in a 
frightful stru2;2;le. Blows that meant murder were dealt 
by each. Each slapping thud seemed to carry the crack- 
ins; of bones in it. Steve was the more agile of the two 
and circled rapidly around, striking like a trained boxer. 

Every time his face came into view, with set teeth 
and ferocious scowl, the boys' spirits fell. But when 
they saw the calm, determined eyes of Lime, his watch- 
ful, confident look, they grew assured. All depended 
upon him. The Nagle gang were like wolves in their 
growing ferocity, and as they outnumbered the other 
party two to one, it was a critical quarter of an hour. 
In a swift retrospect Lincoln remembered the frightful 
tales told of this verv spot — of the killing of Lars 
Petersen and his brother Ncls, and the brutal hammering 
a crowd of drunken men had given to Big Ole, of the 
Wapsy. 



Hired Men 175 

The blood was trickling down Lime's face from a cut 
on his cheek, but Steve's face was swollen and ghastly 
from the three blows which he had received. Lime was 
saving himself for a supreme effort. The Nagle party, 
encouraged by the sound of the blows which Steve 
struck, began to yell and to show that they were ready 
to take a hand in the contest. 

" Go it, Steve, we'll back yeh ! Give it to 'im. 
We're with yeh ! We'll tend to the rest." 

Rice threw off his coat. " Never mind these chaps, 
Lime. Hold on ! Fair play ! " he yelled, as he saw 
young Nagle about to strike Lime from behind. 

His cry startled Lime, and with a sudden leap he 
dealt Steve a terrible blow full in the face, and as he 
went reeling back made another leaping lunge and struck 
him to the ground — a motion that seemed impossible 
to one of his bulk. But as he did so, one of the crowd 
tripped him and sent him rolling upon the prostrate 
Steve, whose friends leaped like a pack of snarling 
wolves upon Lime's back. There came into the giant's 
heart a terrible, blind, desperate resolution. With a 
hoarse, inarticulate cry he gathered himself for one 
supreme effort and rose from the heap like a bear shak- 
ing off a pack of dogs ; and holding the stunned and 
nerveless Steve in his great hands, with one swift, in- 
credible effort literally swept his opponent's body in the 
faces of the infuriated men rushing down upon him. 

" Come on, you red hellions ! " he shouted, in a 
voice like a lion at bay. The light streamed on his 
bared head, his hands were clinched, his chest heaved in 



176 Boy Life on the Prairie 

great gasps. There was no movement. The crowd 
waited with their hands lowered ; before such a man 
they could not stand for a moment. Thev could not 
meet the blaze of his eyes. For a moment it seemed as 
if no one breathed. 

In the silence that followed, Bill, who had kept out 
of sight up to this moment, piped out in a high, weak 
falsetto, with a comically questioning accent, " All quiet 
along the Potomac, boys ? " 

Lime unbraced, wiped his face, and laughed. The 
others joined in cautiously. " No, thank yez, none in 
mine," said Sheehan, iij answer to the challenge of 
Lime. " Whan Oi take to fightin' stame-ingins Oi'U 
lit you knaw." 

" Well, I should say so," said another. " Lime, 
you're the best man that walks this State." 

" Git out of the way, you white-livered hound, or I'll 
blow hell out o' yeh," said Steve, who had recovered 
himself sufficiently to know what it all meant. He lay 
upon the grass behind the rest and was weakly trying to 
get his revolver sighted upon Lime. One of the men 
caught him by the shoulder and the rest yelled : — 

" Hyare, Steve, no shootin'. It was a fair go, and 
you're whipped." 

Steve only repeated his warnings to get out of the 
way. Rice kicked the weapon from his outstretched 
hand, and the bullet went flying harmlessly into the air. 

Walking through the ring. Lime took Owen by the 
hand and said : " Come, boy, this is no place for you. 
Let's go home. Fellers," he drawled in his customary 



Hired Men 177 

lazy way, "when y' want me you know where to find 
me. Come, boys, the circus is over, the last dog is 
hung." 

For the first mile or two there was a good deal of 
talk, and Bill said he knew that Lime could whip the 
whole crowd. 

" But where was you. Bill, about the time they had 
me down ? I don't remember hearin' anything of you 
'long about that time. Bill." 

Bill had nothing to say. 

" Made me think somehow of Daniel in the lions' 
den," said Owen. 

" What do you mean by that, sonny ? " said Bill. 
" It made me think of a circus. The circus there'll be 
when Lime's woman finds out what he's been a-doin'." 

" Great Scott, boys, you mustn't tell Merry Etty," 
said Lime, in genuine alarm. 

As for Owen, he lay with his head in Lime's lap, 
looking up at the glory of the starlit night, and with a 
confused mingling of the play, of the voice of the lovely 
woman, of the shouts and blows at the brewery, in his 
mind, and with the murmur of the river and the roll and 
rumble of the wagon blending in his ears, he fell into a 
sleep which the rhythmic beat of the horses' hoofs did 
not interrupt. 



AUGUST 

From cottonwoods the locusts cry 

In quavering ecstatic duo — a boy 
Shouts a wild call — a mourning dove 
In the blue distance sobs — the wind 
Wanders by heavy with odors 
Of corn and wheat and melon vines. 
The trees tremble with delirious joy as the breeze 
Greets them, one by one — now the oak, 
Now the great sycamore, now the elm — 
While the locusts, in brazen chorus, cry 
Like stricken things, and the ringdove's note 
Sobs on in the dim distance. 



IN STACKING TIME 

Within the shelter of a towerino- stack 
I lie in shadow, blinking at the sky. 
I hear the glorious southern wind 
Sweep the sere stubble like a scythe. 
The falling crickets patter like the rain 
Shaken from wind-tossed yellow wheat. 

O first ripe dav of autumn ! 
O memory half of pain and half of joy ! 
178 



In Stacking Time 179 

As if the harsh fate of some dead girl 

Haunted my heart, I dream and dream 

With aching throat of dim but unforgotten days. 

O wind, and Hght, and cool, high clouds, 

O smell of corn leaves ripening ! 

It is so sweet to lie here, dumb and rapt 

With wordless weight of ancient scenes and suns. 

Of unremembered millions of autumn days. 

Filled with the wonder of a million vanished years, 

Wonder of winds and woods and waters, 

The smell of ripening grain and nuts, 

And the joy of sunset rest from toil 

In rude, small fields in dim ancestral days. 

As I muse, the shadows wheel and lengthen 

Across the stubble-land, which glows, 

A mat of gold inlaid with green. 

The sun sinks. Sighing, I rise to go — 

The noise of near-by street-car breaks the spell 

Of cloud and sun and rustling sheaves. 

Drowning the call of the mystical wind — 

And overhead I hear the jar and throb 

Of giant presses ; and the grinding roar 

Of ceaseless tumult in the street below 

Comes back and welters all my world 

As the gray sea returns to sweep 

In sullen surges where the roses bloomed. 







.'it '■J^''" 



CHAPTER XIII 

Lincoln's first stack 

From the time he had reached his eighth year, it had 
been Lincohi's business in stacking time to ^' turn 
bundles." That is, he stood in the middle of the stack, 
and receiving the sheaves from the pitcher on the 
wagon, turned them, and laid them butt-end foremost 
at the elbow of the stacker, while on the far side of the 
stack, as he came round on the side near the wagon, 
the pitcher could place them without aid. 

The stacks were often six or eight yards in diameter, 
and as the stacker rose far above the wagon, he was 
quite out of sight of the pitcher while making his round. 
Turning the sheaves was not hard work, and Lincoln 
rather enjoyed it, for he had wheat to eat, and the talk 

i8o 



Lincoln's First Stack 



iSi 



of the men interested him, and besides, he was learning 
to be a stacker himself. 

A boy wants to do everything, but he doesn't want 
to do anything long. No matter how enjoyable a job 
may be for a time, it soon grows old to him. He is an 
experimenter. That is his trade. To do one thing 
long cuts him off from acquiring a complete education. 
Moreover, he wants to do a man's work. Set him to 
turning bundles, he longs to pitch in the field, or some 
other job for which he is not fitted. 

Lincoln enjoyed the close of each old job and the 
beginning of each new one. He was intensely pleased 
when harvest ended and stacking began. There was 
something fine in the coming of his uncles, the 
McTurgs, rattling up the road in the early dawn of 
late August. They changed work, thus making up 
a crew in order to get the services of Duncan Stewart, 
who was a skilful stacker. They often came with the 
avowed intention of catching the Stewarts at breakfast, 
but they never succeeded. Lincoln considered his 
father an owl, because of his early rising. 

Often by half-past six in the morning the teams 
moved out into a field where the rising sun was flaming 
through a mist that clothed the world like a garment, 
and clung to the jewelled grass like a bridal veil. 

The prairie at this time was quite silent. The 
young chickens had ceased to peep, the meadow-lark 
was heard only infrequently — the cricket and the 
katydid possessed the land. The corn rustled huskily 
now and then, as if in intermittent, meditative speech. 



1 82 Boy Life on the Prairie 

brooding upon the decay which was falling upon the 
world. The pumpkins and melons were ripening in 
the deeps of the corn-forests, the waving fields of wheat 
had given place to wide reaches of cleanly shaven 
stubble, beautifully mottled in green and purple by 
smart-weed and mats of morning-glory vines, wherein 
the shocks, weather-beaten as granite, sat in sagging 
rows waiting the stacker, eaten into by pocket-gophers 
below and ravaged by swarms of blackbirds above. By 
contrast with the fierce heat and the unrelenting strain 
of the harvest-field, stacking time seemed leisurely and 
full of genial intercourse. The teams moved lazily at 
the most, and the men worked on quietly with the action 
of those who meditated. The crew was made up of 
" monthly hands " and neighbors ; the wild and lawless 
element was pretty thoroughly eliminated. A single 
crew consisted of two teams with their drivers, one 
pitcher in the field, a stacker, and a boy to hand bundles. 
Sometimes Mr. Stewart ran a double crew and superin- 
tended the stacking, while Lincoln and Owen turned 
bundles and " raked down," keeping the stack clean of 
" scatterings." 

It was pleasant business at first, to stand on the 
growing stack, facing the rushing breeze, counting the 
number of settings in sight, hearing the voices of 
the men, and tossing the sheaves into place. But 
before noon came the boy dropped with amazing readi- 
ness upon the stack, to shell wheat between his hands 
(out of which to make " gum ") and to listen to the 
crickets, while the stacker was at work on the side 



Lincoln's First Stack 183 

next to the pitcher. Each time he called " Come, 
Lincoln," the boy rose with reluctant weariness. If 
a boy could only toil when he felt like it, work 
wouldn't be so bad, but to be interrupted in a day- 
dream by a call to hand bundles was disagreeably like 
being enslaved to a treadmill. 

There were days when a powerful, persistent wind, 
hot and dry, moved up from the south, making the 
ripening corn hiss and flutter, a blast that swept the 
sear stubble like a scythe invisible, but sounding with 
swiftness, a wind that drove the loose wheat into the 
boy's face like shot, and lifted the outside sheaves of 
the stack in spite of all precaution, and laughed and 
howled like an insane fury. It was the mighty equa- 
torial wind, and Lincoln loved it. All day while the 
sun shone and the prairie lay dim in its garment of mist, 
that steady, relentless, furious, splendid breeze swept 
from the burning south to the empty, mysterious north 
like an invisible fleeing army of invisible harpies. Some- 
times on such a day, fires broke out and raged, sweeping 
from field to meadow and from stubble-land to pasture. 
Fires were infrequent at this time in the settled places, 
but when they came they worked woes. Sam Hutchison 
lost all his horses on such a day by a spark from the 
kitchen stovepipe, and Humboldt Bunn burned up two 
enormous ricks of grain by setting fire to the stubble 
which plagued him. For all these things Lincoln 
always found something extremely worth while in the 
sound of this wind. 

It browned the men till they looked like Sioux, and 



184 Boy Life on the Prairie 

made the boys' lips chap. The hawks seemed to deh'ght 
in it — tipping, wheeling, down-shooting, up-darting, 
apparently its toy, but in reality its master. The 
turkey-buzzards went abroad in it without hesitancy and 
their majestic flight always appeared to Lincoln as al- 
most miraculous. They seemed to fling themselves into 
the air and ride above the storm at their own will with- 
out a particle of physical effort. They had the sovereign 
pride of eagles and the taste of carrion beetles. 

For several years Lincoln had been instructed by his 
father in the rudiments of stacking, and had been 
allowed to " start the bottom," and even to lay a course 
or two of the *•' bulge." To stack well was considered 
a nice job, requiring skill and judgment, and the privi- 
lege of doing even an occasional " inside course " was 
of great value to ambitious boys. 

The bundles are laid in rings, butt-ends out, each 
inner course lapping to the bands of the outer sheaves. 
Thus when a stack is started the courses form a series 
of circular terraces rising to a dome of crossed sheaves 
in the middle, the design being to keep the straw always 
slanting out, so that any rain sinking in must necessarily 
work its way outward of its own weight. In order to 
further insure their slant, skilful stackers like Duncan 
Stewart laid " bulges," so that when the stack was com- 
plete it was shaped like a gigantic egg ; small on the 
bottom, swelling to a much larger diameter six or eight 
feet from the ground, and gradually tapering to a point 
at the top. 

This was done by studying the slant of the sheaves. 



Lincoln's First Stack 185 

After a shock has set for some time in the field, the ends 
of the outside bundles take on a " slanch " at the butt, 
and when the stacker wishes to " carry the stack up 
straight," he lays the sheaves sidewise. When he 
wishes to "lay out" his bulge, he turns the long point 
of the " slanch " upward. When he wishes to " draw 
in," he reverses them, putting the point down and the 
slant upward, — "and always keep your middle full," 
Duncan reiterated to his son. " Pack your middle hard, 
especially when you come to draw in. Tramp it down 
well, and you won't have any wet grain." 

The year he was thirteen, Lincoln regularly laid the 
bottoms and brought the stacks to the bulge, but hardly 
dared go on through that ticklish spot. He came to 
" top out " for his father, being light and agile, and able 
to cling like a chicken to the high stack after it was far 
above the ladder, but he had never been able to put up a 
full stack. One day in Lincoln's thirteenth year, Mr. 
Stewart, while topping off a very high oat-stack, slipped 
and fell to the ground, spraining his arm and side so 
badly that he could not continue his work. For a few 
minutes he could not speak for his pain. As he grew 
easier, he feassumed his dauntless tone. 

" Well, Lincoln," he said grimly, " I guess you are 
the boss stacker from this on." They laid him on a 
wagon and carried him to the house. " I'm all right 
now, — go back to work," he said. 

Lincoln's heart swelled with pride. He was not quite 
fourteen, but his father's words made a man of him. 
He assumed command, and the work went on as before. 



1 86 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Owen passed bundles, and Lincoln began a new bottom 
in a sort of tremor, such as a voung lieutenant feels 
when he assumes command for the first time. The 
hired men were curious to see how the boy would come 
out. The wind was against him, but the oats were 
long and not likely to slip, so Lincoln started boldly on 
a new stack, resolved to make it a big one. He moved 
swiftly round on his knees, catching the bundles with 
his left hand and drawing them under his right knee. 
The men did not spare him, and he did not ask mercy 
of them. 

It was hard work. The knees of his trousers soon 
gave way, and the backs of his hands swelled from the 
exertion of grasping the heavy bundles, which often 
struck him in the face, filling his neck with chaff and 
beards. Briers got into his fingers, and his neck ached, 
but after all, it was a man's work, and he had no mind 
to complain. 

By three o'clock he began to lay out his bulge, and 
then the hired hands began to bother him. 

" Better not try to put on too much of a bulge. 
Link," said one. 

" Ain't vou layin' 'er out a little too much on one 
side ? " asked David, with an air of great solicitude. 

" I guess not," Lincoln replied. He had been taught to 
tell by the dip of the stack whether it was balancing prop- 
erly or not ; nevertheless he got down often to look at it. 
" I'll make her a twenty-five-footer," he said to Owen. 

" It's time to eat our melons," replied Owen, who 
was already tired of handling bundles. 



Lincoln's First Stack 187 

Lincoln, with the air of the boss, called on all hands 
for a rest and a hack at a big " mountain sweet " which 
had been picked in the early morning, and put under the 
edge of a stack to keep cool. 

The boys considered it almost providential that 
melons should ripen just in time to relieve the drouth 
of stacking time. And such melons ! They seemed to 
grow spontaneously from the new land. Sometimes by 
merely scattering seeds as he broke the sod, a farmer 
would find thousands of splendid melons ready in Au- 
gust. Everybody had a patch, generally in the middle 
of the corn-field, for safe keeping, and Lincoln and 
Owen took great pride in having the best seed known 
to them. They were skilled in ways to tell when a 
melon was ripe, and in the darkest night made no mis- 
takes. 

In the shade of his stack, with the crickets chiming 
dully in the stubble, Lincoln and all hands drew around 
an immense green-striped globe, rich in the summer's 
sweetness, and laved in the cool dew of the night be- 
fore. There is no other place where a melon tastes 
so good (a table is no place for a melon). The midday 
meal was just far enough away to make the red core 
delicious food, as well as cool drink. When the men 
slit ofF great pink and green crescents, and, disdaining 
knives, " wallered into it," when nothing remained of 
it but the seed and green " rine," Lincoln rose and 
walked toward the ladder, and thus set the crew again 
in motion. 

Round by round he pushed out his bulge, the pitch- 



1 88 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ers warning him, " Better look out, Link, you'll have a 
' slide-out.' " 

But he, with wilful pride, had determined to build a 
monster, just to show his father he was really a boss 
stacker. At last the huge, half-built stack stood like a 
top poised on a twelve-foot bottom, and Lincoln, fairly 
alarmed, crept round on the top of the outside course, 
fearing disaster. 

"Don't touch them outside bundles," he said sharply 
to the pitcher. " Send 'em up to Owen. Owen, slide 
'em down easy — don't jiggle me." 

Another round bound the outside sheaves, but still 
the stack was in danger. Not till the third round did 
Lincoln's muscles relax. Even then he knew that the 
first course of " drawing in " was almost as full of dan- 
ger. His nerves were a little shaken, but his pride 
would not let him show his doubt of the issue. Slowly 
he " drew in," but when all danger of a " slide-out " was 
over, a new problem presented itself. The stack was 
growing out of reach of the pitcher. It bid fair to be 
thirty feet high, and to finish it by night was impossible, 
though a dark cloud rising in the west threatened rain. 
It must be " topped out " somehow. 

As they went up to supper at five o'clock, the men 
were full of admiration of the stack. 

" She's a linger, and no mistake." 

" When ye goin' to top her out. Link ? " 

"Who has the honors?" (The "honors" meant the 
privilege of pitching the last sheaves to the top of the 
stack, an ironical phrase.) 



Lincoln's First Stack 189 

"Well, I'm not anxious," said David. "I guess I'll 
let Dan have it." 

They found Mr. Stewart stretched out on two chairs, 
with his arm bandaged, but fairly comfortable. 

"Well, my son, how do you come on ? " 

" Oh, all right, I guess." 

" Leave everything snug — it looks like rain." 

"You want to see that stack," said David. "We 
put ten loads into her, and she's only a little ways above 
the bulge." 

Duncan looked at his son. " Ten loads ? " 

" Oh, I'll taper off — don't worry." 

Dan took a hand. " He'll top 'er off if we can get the 
bundles to him. She's as big as a mountain." 

Duncan smiled. " Trying to beat your old dad, are 
you ? " 

Lincoln felt hot. " I wanted to make it big enough 
to take all the afternoon," he said. 

" You have," said David, " and part of the night." 

" Put a man on the ladder," said Mr. Stewart, " and 
do the best you can." 

Lincoln set his lips, and said no more in the house. 

" I'll make you pay for this," he said to Dan, as he 
climbed to his place on the wagon. " Now hump your- 
selves," Slowly the top of the stack contracted, and 
the pitchers sank below. The shadows of the teams 
began to lengthen along the stubble, which the setting 
sun glorified. The crickets sang innumerably. The 
cloud in the west hung low down on the horizon, await- 
ing the coming of the night to advance. The wind 



190 Boy Life on the Prairie 

had died away, as if " to give the boy a chance," as 
David said, and Lincohi's heart was resolute. 

The " honors " fell on Dan, but David came in to 
stand on the ladder and pass the bundles up to the 
stacker, who looked like a child working all alone high 
up in the air. There was something fine and exalting 
in that last hour's work. To feel that his first stack 
was, after all, a success made the boy feel like a young 
soldier just promoted. He worked in his bare feet in 
order to cling better, — worked swiftly, and yet calmly. 

David " gassed " Dan. " Come, bear down on your 
fork, there ! Your hide's been crackin' with strength 
all day. Now here is your chance for exercise. A 
little more steam, Danny. I can't come down after 
em. 

At last the boy, hardly larger than a sheaf, stood 
erect on the completed top of the stack, and called 
for the centre stake. He was so far above even the 
man on the ladder, that David grumbled in flinging 
the cap-sheaf to him, but at last the final bundle was 
broken and upturned upon the stake, and as the boy, 
sliding to the ground, agile as a squirrel, walked around 
the stack, which towered, big, and stately, and graceful, 
far above him, his heart was big with pride. He had 
demonstrated his skill, and was happy. 

But all night long he crept round that wide, slippery 
bulge, the bundles sliding away from him again and again, 
till he was worn and brain-weary with the effect. It was 
always so with any new thing he did ; he toiled over it 
all night, and rose in the morning limp and unrested. 



Lincoln's First Stack 191 

The following day tried him sorely. He passed from 
oats to wheat, which is much more slippery and more 
difficult to handle in the bulge. He had a disastrous 
" slide out " in his forenoon's stack. The rain which 
threatened had not come, the air was hot and close, and 
he was lame and sore, his hands badly swollen, and his 
knees tender, and on all these accounts, when a third of 
his bulge fell out, he wept tears of mortification and 
rage. To crown his misfortunes, his father came out 
before he was able to straighten out the " mess." 

But something rose in him which made him sullenly 
determined, and with only an hour's delay he was once 
more master of the situation. Mr. Stewart wisely said 
nothing — preferring to "let the boy wiggle." When 
he turned his back and started for the house, Lincoln's 
heart grew strong again. His father considered him 
quite equal even to a disaster, capable of taking care of 
himself and a crew. By nightfall he had repaired all 
mistakes ; thereafter, he was the stacker of the crew. 

The finest part of all the stacking time lay in the 
" home setting " in the barn-yard, for the work lay near 
the house, the road, the well, and the berry patch. A 
part of the crop was always housed in and stacked 
around the barn, in order that the straw might be used 
for sheds, and as feed for the cattle in winter. Here 
Lincoln was forced to do his handsomest, for every pass- 
ing team minutely studied the work of his hands. 

By the time they reached this home setting, his father 
was able to supervise, and his warnings and advice en- 
abled Lincoln to outdo himself. Hardly a neighbor 



192 Boy Life on the Prairie 

passing by but had his remark about the boy stacker. 
Old man Bennett came along and stopped to drawl 
out : — 

"Say, Link, your stack's tarvin' over." 

" Oh, I guess not." 

" I say 'tis. You'll be off in a minute." 

Jennings pulled up to say, " Get full pay ? " 

" Yes, sir." 

"Well, you d'oughto. How do you build 'em on air, 
that way ? " 

Lincoln enjoyed all this very much, and as a matter 
of fact, so did his father. If a man seemed disposed to 
linger, Mr. Stewart went out to the fence to gossip 
about his injured arm, and to state the age of the boy. 
It was perfectly obvious vanity, but it led to no ill 
results. 

The kitchen was handy, and Mary came out with a 
cooky and a cup of milk occasionally. The turkeys and 
chickens fluttered about, picking up crickets and grass- 
hoppers, and singing harsh songs of joy, as if giving 
thanks for this unexpected feast. David's wife came 
over once to spend the day, and Dan's sister came to tea 
at night. Ranee, on his way to town one afternoon 
with a drove of steers, made Lincoln discontented for a 
time. " I wish I could go along," he shouted as Ranee 
pulled up at the gate. 

" I wish you could ; I'd treat you to ice-cream." 

"Just my darn luck," said Lincoln, ruefully, and 
Ranee rode on. 

There was a peculiar charm in the work as night fell 



Lincoln's First Stack 193 

and the lights flamed up in the kitchen. As the last 
load was finished, the crickets increased their shrill 
chorus ; the rumble of wagons on the road grew more 
distinct, and the cattle came snuffing and lowing un- 
easily at the bars, surprised at being shut ofF from their 
accustomed quarters. Stiff and weary, but serenely 
well pleased, Lincoln slid down from his high place, and 
with the privilege of a boss stacker went directly to the 
house, with no chores to do — a very decided honor and 
high distinction indeed. 

There was only one thing better — to go with Ranee 
to market with the steers. It made his mouth water to 
think of the peaches and ice-cream he might have had 
with his chum after the " bunch " of steers at the cattle 
chutes had been safely corralled. But the good things 
of life never seemed to go in a " string," anyway. 
They came singly and far apart. 



I 



CHAPTER XIV 

THE OLD-FASHIONED THRESHING 

Life on an Iowa farm, even for the older lads, had 
its compensations. There were times when the daily 
routine of lonely and monotonous life gave place to an 
agreeable bustle for a few days, and human intercourse 
lightened the toil. In the midst of the dull, slow prog- 
ress of the fall's ploughing, the gathering of the thresh- 
ing crew was a most dramatic event. 

There had been great changes in the methods of 
threshing since Mr. Stewart had begun to farm, but it 
had not yet reached the point where steam displaced the 
horse-power. In the old days in Wisconsin, the grain, 
after being stacked round the barn ready to be threshed, 
was allowed to remain until late in the fall before call- 
ing in the machine. 

Of course, some farmers got at it earlier, for all could 
not thresh at the same time, and a good part of the fall's 
labor consisted in " changing works " with the neigh- 
bors, thus laying up a stock of unpaid labor ready for 
the home job. Day after day, therefore, Mr. Stewart 
and the hired man shouldered their forks in the crisp 
and early dawn and went to help their neighbors, 
while Lincoln ploughed the stubble-land. 

All through the months of October and November, 
194 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 195 

the ceaseless ringing hum and the boiv-ouiu^ omu-iuoo boo- 
oo-oofti of the great balance wheels of the threshing-ma- 
chine and the deep bass hum of the whirling cylinder, as 
its motion rose and fell, could be heard on every side 
like the singing of some sullen and gigantic autumnal 
insect. 

For weeks Lincoln had looked forward to the com- 
ing of the threshers with the greatest eagerness, and 
during the whole of the day appointed Owen and he 
hung on the gate and gazed down the road to see if the 
machine were not coming. It did not come during the 
afternoon — still they could not give it up, and at 
the falling of dusk still hoped to hear the rattle of its 
machinery. 

They moved about restlessly in momentary expecta- 
tion of a shout, notwithstanding the hired man said, 
"They're probably stuck in the mud." A score of 
times Owen ran to the window to see if he could not 
catch a glimpse of it or hear the shouts of the men to 
their horses. 

It was not uncommon for the men who attended to 
these machines to work all day at one place and move 
to another "setting" at night. In that way, they might 
not arrive until nine o'clock at night, or they might 
come at four o'clock in the morning. And the children 
were about starting to "climb the wooden hill" when 
they heard the peculiar rattle of the cylinder and the 
voices of the McTurgs singing. 

"There they are," said Mr. Stewart, getting the old 
square lantern and lighting the candle within. The air 



196 Boy Life on the Prairie 

was sharp, and the boys having taken off their boots, 
could only stand at the window and watch the father as 
he went out to show the men where to set the "power," 
the dim light throwing fantastic shadows here and there, 
lighting up a face now and then, and bringing out the 
thresher, which seemed a silent monster to the children, 
who flattened their noses against the cold window-panes 
to be sure that nothing should escape them. The men's 
voices sounded cheerfully in the still night, and the 
roused turkeys in the oaks peered about on their perches, 
black silhouettes against the sky. The children would 
gladly have stayed up to greet the threshers, who were 
captains of industry in their eyes, but they were ordered 
off to bed by Mrs. Stewart, who said, " You must go to 
sleep in order to be up early in the morning." As they 
lay there in their beds under the sloping rafter roof, they 
heard the hand riding furiously away to tell some of the 
neighbors that the threshers had come. They could 
hear the cackle of the hens as Mr. Stewart assaulted 
them and wrung their innocent necks. The crash of 
the " sweeps " being unloaded sounded loud and clear in 
the night, and so watching the dance of the lights and 
shadows cast by the lantern on the plastered wall, they 
fell asleep. 

They were awakened next morning by the ringing 
beat of the iron sledge as the men drove the stakes to 
hold the " power" to the ground. The rattle of chains, 
the clash of rods, the clang of iron bars, intermixed with 
laughter and snatches of song, came sharply through the 
frosty air. The smell of sausages being fried in the 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 197 

kitchen, the rapid tread of their busy mother as she hur- 
ried the breakfast forward, warned the boys that it was 
time to get up, although it was not yet dawn in the 
east, and they had a sense of being awakened to a strange 
new world. When they got down to breakfast, the men 
had finished their coffee and were out in the stock-yard 
completing preparations. 

This morning experience was superb. Though shiv- 
ery and cold in the faint frosty light of the day, the 
children enjoyed every moment of it. The frost lay 
white on every surface, the frozen ground rang like iron 
under the steel-shod feet of the horses, the breath of the 
men rose up in little white puffs while they sparred 
playfully or rolled each other on the ground in jovial 
clinches of legs and arms. 

The young men were all anxiously waiting the first 
sound which should rouse the countryside and proclaim 
that theirs was the first machine to be at work. The 
older men stood in groups, talking politics or speculating 
on the price of wheat, pausing occasionally to slap 
their hands about their breasts. 

The pitchers were beginning to climb the stacks, and 
belated neighbors could be seen coming across the fields. 

Finally, just as the east began to bloom and long 
streamers of red began to unroll along the vast gray 
dome of sky, Joe Gilman — " Shouting Joe " as he was 
called — mounted one of the stacks, and throwing down 
the cap-sheaf lifted his voice in " a Chippewa war- 
whoop." On a still morning like this his voice could 
be heard three miles. Long drawn and musical, it sped 



198 Boy Life on the Prairie 

away over the fields, announcing to all the world that 
the McTurgs were ready for the race. Answers came 
back faintly from the. frosty fields, where the dim figures 
of laggard hands could be seen hurrying over the plough- 
land ; then David called '•'All right," and the machine 
began to hum. 

In those days the machine was a "J. I. Case" or a 
" Buft^alo Pits " separator, and was moved by five pairs 
of horses attached to a power staked to the ground, 
round which they travelled to the left, pulling at 
the ends of long levers or sweeps. The power was 
planted some rods away from the machine, to which the 
force was carried by means of " tumbling rods," with 
"knuckle joints." The driver stood upon a platform 
above the huge, savage, cog-wheels round which the 
horses moved, and he was a great figure in the eyes of 
the boys. 

Driving looked like an easy job, but it was not. It 
was very tiresome to stand on that small platform all 
through the long day of the early fall, and on cold 
November mornino;s when the cutting wind roared over 
the plain, sweeping the dust and leaves along the road. 
It was far pleasanter to sit on the south side of the 
stack as Tommy did and watch the horses go round. 
It was necessary also for the driver to be a man of good 
judgment, for the power must be kept just to the right 
speed, and he should be able to gauge the motion of the 
cylinder by the pitch of its deep bass hum. There were 
always three men who went with the machine and were 
properly " the threshers." One acted as driver, the 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 199 

others were respectively " feeder " and " tender " ; one 
of them fed the grain into the rolling cylinder, while the 
other, oil-can in hand, " tended " the separator. The 
feeder's position was the high place to which all boys 
aspired, and they used to stand in silent admiration 
watching the easy, powerful swing of David McTurg as 
he caught the bundles in the crook of his arm, and 
spread them out into a broad, smooth band upon which 
the cylinder caught and tore like some insatiate monster, 
and David was the ideal man in Lincoln's eyes, and to 
be able to feed a threshing-machine, the highest honor 
in the world. The boy who was chosen to cut bands 
went to his post like a soldier to dangerous picket duty. 

Sometimes David would take one of the small boys 
upon his stand, where he could see the cylinder whiz 
while the flying wheat stung his face. Sometimes the 
driver would invite Tommy on the power to watch the 
horses go round, and when he became dizzy often took 
the youngster in his arms and running out along the 
moving sweep, threw him with a shout into David's 
arms. 

Lincoln, who was just old enough to hold sacks for 
the measurer, did not enjoy threshing so well, but to 
Owen and his mates it was the keenest joy. They 
wished it would never end. The wind blew cold and 
the clouds were flying across the bright blue sky, the 
straw glistened in the sun, the machine howled, the 
dust flew, the whip cracked, and the men worked like 
beavers to get the sheaves to the feeder, and to keep the 
straw and wheat away from the tail-end of the machine. 



200 Boy Life on the Prairie 

These fellows, wallowing to their waists in the chaff, 
did so for the amusement of Owen and Mary, and for 
no other reason. 

And the straw-pile — what delight they had in that! 
What fun it was to go up to the top where the four or 
five men were stationed, one behind the other. They 
tossed huge forkfuls of the light, fragrant stalks upon 
the boys, burying their light bulk, from which they 
came to the surface out of breath, and glad to see the 
light again. 

They were always amused by the man who stood in 
the midst of the thick dust and flying chaff at the head 
of the stacker, who took and threw away the endless 
cataract of straw as if it were all play. His teeth shone 
like a negro's out of his dust-blackened face, and his 
shirt was wet with sweat, but he motioned for more 
straw, and the feeder, accepting the challenge, motioned 
for more speed, and so the driver swung his lash and 
yelled at the straining horses, the pitchers buckled to it, 
the sleepy growl of the cylinder rose to a howl, the 
wheat rushed out in a stream as " big as a stovepipe," 
and the carriers were forced to trot back and forth from 
the granary like mad, and to generally " hump them- 
selves " in order to keep the wheat from piling up round 
the measurer where Lincoln stood disconsolately holding 
sacks for old man Smith. 

When the children got tired with wallowing in the 
straw, and with turning somersaults therein, they 
could go down and help Rover catch the rats which 
were uncovered bv the pitchers when they reached the 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 201 

stack bottom. It was all drama to Owen, just as it 
had once been to the others. The horses, with their 
straining, outstretched necks, the loud and cheery 
shouts, the whistling of the driver, the roar and hum 
of the machine, the flourishing of the forks, the supple 
movement of brawny arms, the shouts of the threshers 
to each other, all blended with the wild sound of the 
wind overhead in the creaking branches of the oaks, 
formed a splendid drama for such as he. 

But for Lincoln, who was forced to stand with old 
Daddy Smith in the flying dust beside the machine, it 
was a bad play. He had now become a part of the 
machine — of the crew. His liberty to come and go 
was gone. When Daddy was grinning at him out of 
the gray dust and the swirling chafF, the wheat beards 
were crawling down his back, scratching and rasping. 
His ears were stunned by the noise of the cylinder and 
the howl of the balance-wheel, and it did not help him 
any to have the old man say in a rasping voice, " Never 
mind the chaff, sonny — it ain't pizen." 

Whirr — bang! something had gone into the cylin- 
der, making the feeder dodge to escape the flying teeth, 
and the men seized the horses to stop the machine. 
Lincoln hailed such accidents with delight, for it afforded 
him a few minutes' rest while the men put some new 
teeth in the "concave." He had time to unbutton his 
shirt and get some of the beards out of his neck, to take 
a drink of water, and to let the deafness go out of his 
ears. 

At such times also some of the young fellows were 



202 Boy Life on the Prairie 

sure to have a wrestling or a lifting match, and all kind 
of jokes flew about. The man at the straw-stack leaned 
indolently on his fork and asked the feeder sarcastically 
if that was the best he could do, and remarked, " It's 
gettin' chilly up here. Guess I'll haf to go home and 
get my kid gloves." 

To this David laughingly responded, " I'll warm your 
carcass with a rope if you don't shut up," all of which 
gave the boys infinite delight. 

There was not a little joking about the extraordinary 
number of times the oil-can had to be carried to the 
kitchen fire and warmed by Len Robbins, the driver. 
When David was tending and Len feeding, the can was 
all right, but thfe moment Len took it up it congealed. 
David said, " It always does that whenever there's a 
pretty girl in the house, even in the warmest days of 
September." 

Len laughed and said, " Don't you wish you had as 
good a chance, boys ? " and triumphantly flourished a 
half-eaten doughnut on the tip of his forefinger. 

But the work began again, and Lincoln was forced to 
take his place as regularly as the other men. As the 
sun neared the zenith, Lincoln looked often up at it — 
so often in fact that Daddy, observing it, cackled in great 
amusement, " Think you c'n hurry it along, sonny ? 
The watched pot never boils, remember!" — which 
made the boy so angry he nearly kicked the old man 
on the shin. 

But at last the call for dinner sounded, the driver began 
to shout, " Whoa there, bovs," to the teams and to hold 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 203 

his long whip before their eyes in order to convince them 
that he really meant "Whoa." The pitchers stuck their 
forks down in the stack and leaped to the ground, Billy 
the band-cutter drew from his wrist the string of his big 
knife, the men slid down from the straw-pile, and a race 
began among; the teamsters to see who should be first 
unhitched and at the watering trough and at the table. 

It was always a splendid and dramatic moment to the 
boys as the men crowded round the well to wash, shout- 
ing, joking, cuffing each other, sloshing themselves with 
water, and accusing each other of having blackened the 
towel by using it to wash with rather than to wipe with. 

Mrs. Stewart and the hired girl and generally some of 
the neighbors' wives (who had " changed works " also) 
stood ready to bring on the food as soon as the men 
were seated. The table had been lengthened to its 
utmost and pieced out with the kitchen table, which 
usually was not of the same height, and planks had been 
laid for seats on stout kitchen chairs at each side. The 
men came in with a noisy rush and took seats wherever 
they could find them, and their attack on the " biled 
'taters and chicken " should have been appalling to the 
women, but it was not. They smiled to see them eat. 
One cut at a boiled potato followed by two motions and 
it disappeared. Grimy fingers lifted a leg of a chicken 
to a wide mouth, and two snaps at it laid it bare as a 
slate pencil. To the children standing in the corner 
waiting, it seemed that every smitch of the chicken was 
going and that nothing would remain when the men got 
through, but there was, for chickens were plentiful. 



204 Boy Life on the Prairie 

At last even the "gantest" of them filled up. Even 
Len had his limits, and something remained for the 
children and the women, who sat down at the second 
table, while David and William and Len returned to 
the machine to put everything in order, to sew the 
belts, or take a bent tooth out of the " concave." Len, 
however, managed to return two or three times in order 
to have his joke with the hired girl, who enjoyed it 
quite as much as he did. 

In the short days of October only a brief nooning was 
possible, and as soon as the horses had finished their 
oats, the roar and hum of the machine began again 
and continued steadily all the afternoon. Owen and 
Rover continued their campaign upon the rats which 
inhabited the bottoms of the stacks, and great was their 
excitement as the men reached the last dozen sheaves. 
Rover barked and Owen screamed half in fear and 
half from a boy's savage delight in killing things, and 
very few rats escaped their combined efforts. 

To Lincoln the afternoon seemed endless. His arms 
grew tired with holding the sacks against the lip of 
the half-bushel, and his fingers grew sore with the 
rasp of the rough canvas out of which the sacks were 
made. When he thought of the number of times he 
must repeat these actions, his heart was numb with 
wearinesF. 

But all things have an end. By and by the sun 
grew big and red, the night began to fall and the wind 
to die out. Through the falling gloom the machine 
boomed steadily with a new sound, a sort of solemn 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 205 

roar, rising at intervals to a rattling yell as the cylin- 
der ran empty. The men were working silently, sul- 
lenly, looming dim and strange ; the pitchers on the 
stack, the feeder on the platform, and especially the 
workers on the high straw-pile, seemed afar off to 
Lincoln's eyes. The gray dust covered the faces of 
those near by, changing them into something mysteri- 
ous and sad. At last he heard the welcome cry, " Turn 
out ! " The men raised glad answer and threw aside 
their forks. 

Again came the gradual slowing down of the mo- 
tion, while the driver called in a gentle, soothing voice : 
" Whoa, lads ! Steady, boys ! Whoa, now ! " But 
the horses had been going on so long and so steadily that 
they checked their speed with difficulty. The men 
slid from the stacks, and, seizing the ends of the 
sweeps, held them ; but even after the power was 
still, the cylinder went on, until David, calling for a 
last sheaf, threw it in its open maw, choking it into 
silence. 

Then came again the sound of dropping chains and 
iron rods, and the thud of hoofs as the horses walked 
with laggard gait and weary down-falling heads to the 
barn. The men, more subdued than at dinner, washed 
with greater care, brushing the dust from their beards 
and clothes. The air was still and cool, the wind was 
gone, the sky a deep, cloudless blue. 

The evening meal was more attractive to the boys 
than dinner. The table was lighted with a kerosene 
lamp, and the clean white linen, the fragrant dishes, the 



2o6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

women flying about with steaming platters, all seemed 
very dramatic and very cheery to Lincoln as well as to 
the men who came into the light and warmth with ach- 
ing muscles and empty stomachs. 

There was always a good deal of talk at supper, but 
it was more subdued than at the dinner hour. The 
younger fellows had their jokes of course, and watched 
the hired girl attentively, while the old fellows discussed 
the day's yield of grain or the matters of the township. 
Lincoln was now allowed a place at the first table like a 
first-class hand. 

There was a brisk rattle of implements, and many 
time-worn jokes from the wags of the party — about 
" some people being better hands with the fork at the 
kitchen table," etc. 

The pie and the doughnuts and the coffee disappeared 
as fast as they could be brought, which seemed to please 
Mrs. Stewart, who said, " Goodness sakes, yes ; eat all 
you want. They was made to eat." 

The men were all, or nearly all, neighbors' boys, or 
hands hired by the month, and were like members of 
the family. Mrs. Stewart treated them like visitors and 
not like hired help. No one feared a genuine rudeness 
from the other. 

After supper Mr. Stewart and the men withdrew to 
milk the cows and to bed down the horses, and when 
they were gone, the women and the youngsters ate their 
supper while two or three of the young men who had no 
teams to take care of sat round the room and made the 
most interesting remarks they could think of to the 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 207 

girls. Lincoln thought they were very stupid, but the 
girls seemed to enjoy it. 

After they had eaten their supper it was a great 
pleasure to the boys to go out to the barn and shed (all 
wonderfully changed now to their minds by the great 
new stack of straw), there to listen to the stories or jolly 
remarks of the men as they curried their tired horses 
munching busily at their hay, too weary to move a 
muscle otherwise, but enjoying the rubbing down which 
the men gave them with wisps of straw held in each 
hand. The lantern threw a dim red light on the harness 
and the rumps of the horses, and on the active figures 
of the men. 

The boys could hear the mice rustling the straw of 
the roof, while from the farther end of the dimly lighted 
shed came the regular strim — stram of the streams 
of milk falling into the bottoms of the tin pails as Mr. 
Stewart and the hired hand milked the contented cows. 
They peered round occasionally from behind the legs of 
a cow to laugh at the fun of the threshers, or to put in 
a word or joke. 

This was all very momentous to Lincoln and Owen 
as they sat on the oat box, shivering in the cold air, lis- 
tening with all their ears. When they all went toward 
the house, the stars were out, and the flame-colored 
crescent moon lay far down in the deep west. The 
frost had already begun to glisten on the fences and well- 
curb. High in the air, dark against the sky, the turkeys 
were roosting uneasily, as if feeling some premonition 
of their approaching fate. Rover pattered along by 



2o8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Lincoln's side on the crisp grass, and Owen wondered 
if his feet were not cold — his nose certainly was when 
he laid it in his hot palm. 

The light from the kitchen was very welcome, and 
how bright and warm it was with the mother's merry 
voice and smiling face where the women were moving 
to and fro, and talking even more busily than they 
worked. 

Sometimes in these old-fashioned threshing days, after 
the supper table was cleared out of the way, and the 
men returned to the house, there followed an hour or 
two of delicious merrymaking. Perhaps two or three 
of the sisters of the young men had dropped in, and the 
boys themselves were in no hurry to get home. 

Around the fire the older men sat to tell stories while 
the girls trudged in and out, finishing up the day's work 
and getting the materials ready for breakfast. With 
speechless content Lincoln used to sit and listen to 
stories of bears and Indians and logging on the " VVis- 
consc," and other tales of frontier life, and then at last, 
after much beseeching, the violin was brought out and 
David played. Strange how those giant hands could 
supple to the strings and the bow — all day they had 
been handling the fierce straw or were covered with the 
grease and dirt of the machine, yet now they drew from 
the violin the wildest, weirdest strains (David did not 
know the names of these tunes), thrilling Norse folk 
songs, Swedish dances, and love ballads, mournful, sensu- 
ous, and seductive. 

Lincoln could not understand why those tunes had 



The Old-fashioned Threshing 209 

that sad, sweet quality, but he could listen and listen to 
them all night lono-. 

At last came the inevitable call for the " Fisherman's 
Hornpipe," or the " Devil's Dream," to which Joe Gil- 
man jigged with an energy and abandon only to be 
equalled by a genuine darky. Sometimes, if there were 
enough for a set, the young people pushed the table 
aside and took places for " The Fireman's Dance," or 
"Money Musk," and at the end the boys went home 
with the girls in the bright starlight, to rise next dawn 
for another day's work with the thresher. Such had 
been the old-time threshing in the coolly. 

Oh, those rare days and rarer nights ! How fine 
they were then — and how mellow they are growing 
now as the slow-paced years drop a golden mist upon 
them. From this distance they seemed too hearty and 
wholesome and care free to be lost out of the world, 
p 




CHAPTER XV 



THRESHING IN THE FIELD 



The jfields of grain were much larger on the prairie, 
and the work of taking care of the wheat was new to 
Mr. Stewart. The larger part of the wheat was 
"threshed from the shock" early in September, though 
the barn-yard settings of oats remained till October, or 
even November, as in Wisconsin. 

As soon as the grain was hard enough, the machine 
was moved into the centre of the field and " set." 
Six teams with their drivers, three pitchers in the field, 
and two band-cutters, one on each side of the feeder, 
were necessary to supply the wants of the wide-throated 
monster. It was stacking; and threshing; combined. 
A wagon at each " table " kept the cylinder busy chew- 
ing away, while the other teams were loading. At the 
tail of the stacker, a boy with a pair of horses hitched 
to the ends of a long pole hauled away the straw and 
scattered it in shining yellow billows on the stubble, 
ready to be burned. Straw was not merely valueless, 

2IO 



Threshing in the Field 211 

it was a nuisance. Burning was the quickest and 
cheapest way of getting rid of it. 

There was less of the old-time neighborliness and 
charm in field threshing. The days were hot and 
long, and the hands nearly all nomadic workmen, who 
had no intimate relation with the family. They worked 
like day-help, doing no chores, sleeping in the barn or 
granary, taking little interest in anything beyond their 
pay. There was less chance to change works, and 
often the whole of the early threshing was finished with 
hired help, though the late threshing retained for several 
years something of the quality of the old-time " bee." 
Work was less rushing then, and the young men came 
in to help, just as in the home coolly. 

The first year Lincoln left the position of sack-holder 
to Owen, and moved up to hauling away the straw. 
The third season Owen took his place at the stacker, 
and Lincoln became a band-cutter, while Tommy took 
his turn at holding sacks for the measurer. All other 
work was necessarily suspended while the thresher was 
in the field. Work for the women was harder than 
ever, for the crew was increased from twelve to twenty- 
one and the threshing lasted longer. The kitchen 
was hotter, too, and the flies more pestiferous. 

It was not long before the " mounted power " gave 
way to the stationary engine, and the separator surren- 
dered its " apron " and its bell-metal cog-wheels, its 
superb voice diminished to a husky roar and loose rattle. 
It was as if some splendid insect had become silent. 
The engine made a stern master, and work around the 



212 Boy Life on the Prairie 

thresher became one steady, relentless drive from dawn 
to dusk ; the black monster seemed always yelling for 
coal and water, and occasionally uttered cries of hate and 
anger. 

How long those ea'rly autumn days did spin out ! The 
steady swing of the feeder on the platform, the hurried 
puffing of the engine, the flapping of the great belt, 
made a series of related motions without thought of 
stopping. 

On the far plain the tireless hawks wheeled and dipped 
through the dim splendor of the golden autumn days. 
They had no need to toil in the midst of stifling dust 
and deafening clatter ; they had only to swim on the 
crisp, warm air, and scream at each other in freedom. 
It was at such moments that the boys recalled their 
own liberty as horsemen on the plains, and longed to 
be once more a-gallop behind the herd. 

Lincoln, who served regularly as a band-cutter, held 
himself to his work, though his arms were aching with 
fatigue, toiling on and on until the sun went down, and 
the dusk and dust came to hide the look of pain on his 
face. He did not dislike this work, but it overtaxed his 
strength. 

There was great danger of fire from the engine on 
the hot, dry, September days, when the wind was strong 
and gusty, and all too frequently a separator burned 
before it could be drawn away from the blazing straw. 
The engine had a bad smell of mingled gas and steam, 
and sometimes when the wind was right for it, suffoca- 
tion was added to the pain of aching muscles. Lincoln 



Threshing in the Field 213 

was sorely tempted at times to leap from his platform 
and walk away, so intolerable did the smoke and gas 
become — but he didn't. A sort of stubborn pride or a 
fear of ridicule held him to his place, and he swore 
under his breath and kept his place. 

All pain has an end. At last the engine signalled 
" stop ! " The tender put his shoulder under the belt 
and threw it from the pulley. The feeder choked the 
cylinder to a standstill. The men leaped to the ground 
stiffly and in silence, and with quiet haste melted away 
in the dusk, leaving the hissing engine alone in the field. 

Though very tired, the boys seldom failed to take a 
hand in burning the straw. After supper was eaten and 
their chores finished they returned to the field where 
the last setting had stood, and kneeling in some hollow 
between the waves, Mr. Stewart set a match to the 
straw, while the boys twisting big handfuls into torches, 
ran swiftly over the stubble like bent gnomes of fire, 
leaving a blazing trail which transformed the world. 

The roaring flames threw a cataract of golden sparks 
high in the air — the wind suddenly returned, and great 
whisps rose like living things, with wings of flame, and 
sailed away into the obscure night, to fall and die in the 
black distance. The smoke, forming a great inky roof, 
shut out the light of the stars, and the gray night 
instantly thickened to an impenetrable wall, closing in 
around them, filling Lincoln's heart with a sudden awe 
of the world of darkness. 

The shadows of Owen and his father, in the dancing 
light, twisting smoke, and wavering, heated air, seemed 



214 -^oy ^'^^^ o"'' the Prairie 

wild and strange, enormous, deformed, menacing, and 
for a moment Lincoln imagined himself transported to 
some universe of intermingled flame and darkness, where 
men were formed in the image of wreathino- mist. 

Billows of glowing coals rolled away beneath the 
smoke, and it was easy to imagine himself looking down 
upon some volcanic valley, where the rocks were blaz- 
ing. He was glad when his father's voice called him 
back to reality. As he turned his back on the flame 
and started homeward, he thrilled with surprise to find 
the stars calmly shining and the wide landscape serenely 
untroubled, with an atmosphere of sleep hovering over 
it, like mist. The barking of dogs at this moment was 
weirdly suggestive. Once he looked back and saw the 
distant horizon lit with other burnings, from which other 
columns of smoke, gloriously lighted, soared to the stars. 

After the early threshing he returned to his ploughing, 
while Jack dug potatoes, cut corn, changed work with 
the neighbors, and at last, set to work husking. Late 
in October, or early in November, when the ploughing 
was nearly done, the settings at the barn were threshed, 
and the straw stacked around the stables, quite as in 
Wisconsin. The uncouth monster, the engine, was 
planted between the well and the corn-crib, looking sav- 
age and out of place ; the grimy engineer, with folded 
arms, fixed his eyes on the indicator and waited for the 
hand to swing round to " eighty." Then a wild screech 
broke from the engine. " All ready, boys," called the 
feeder. The men scrambled to their places, and the 
hum of the cylinders began. 



Threshing in the Field 215 

By this time most of the "tramp hands " had moved 
on. The crew was made up of regular hired men and 
neighbors. The wheat or oats was hauled away and 
emptied in the bins of the granary, the straw was care- 
fully stacked by skilled men ; given the purple hills, the 
wind in the oaks, and it would have seemed like the 
good old days in Boscobel. 

No sooner was the home setting threshed than the 
boys made use of the straw-stack. Milton and Ben 
came over, and they all worked like moles to " tunnel " 
the rick while it was still permeable. They pierced it 
in every direction, with burrows big enough to allow a 
boy to creep through on his hands and knees, and con- 
structed chutes which began high on the stack, and 
ended at the bottom, through which it was possible to 
descend like a buck-shot through a tin tube. They 
built caves deep in the heart of it, and constructed a 
sort of maze, so that only the well-instructed could find 
way thereto ; so that when a game of " hi spy " was 
going on, the " blinder " could be properly surprised 
and outwitted. 

A large part of the boys' fun, at night and on Sunday, 
went on around the straw-pile. With deadly weapons 
composed of corn-cobs, stuck on willow wands, and 
swords of lath, sharpened to savage keenness on the 
edges, they battled for hours. No actual danger could 
exceed the weakening spasms of fear which followed 
upon moments of imminent capture in these games. 
When Ranee, with deadly corn-cob slug, stepped from 
ambush and made ready to slay, to Owen a blind 



2i6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

fear of death came, paralyzing his Hmbs, and his shriek 
of terror was very real. Generally, however, they 
played "hi spy," counting out in the good old way, 
saying, " Intra, mentra, cutra, corn," etc. 

As the nights grew colder, the boys met regularly, 
now at Lincoln's, now at Ranee's, to pop corn on the 
kitchen stove, and to play in the vivid moonlight. 
Cold made little difference to them. Many a night, 
when the thermometer was ten degrees below zero, 
Lincoln and Owen walked across to Milton's home, 
there to play till nine o'clock, walking home thereafter 
in the stinging frosty night, without so much as feeling 
a fire the whole evening long. Their big boots, frozen 
stiff, stumped and slid on the snowy road, but the boys 
did not mind that. They were sleepy, but the serene 
beauty of the winter world was not lost upon them. 

It was cold in the garret, but in contrast to the out- 
side air, it was very comfortable, and so they flung off 
their outside garments (night-shirts were unknown to 
them), and snuggled down into the middle of their 
" straw-ticks," like a couple of Poland China shotes, 
and were asleep in thirty seconds. Their slumber was 
dreamless and unbroken during all these years. 

As the winter came on, the straw-pile settled down 
into a shapeless mass, weighted with snow. The cattle 
ate irregular caves and tunnels into it, and at last it lost 
its charm. The school entertainments, protracted meet- 
ings, or Lyceums claimed their interest and attention. 
" Pom-pom pullaway " at the school-house replaced the 
game of "hi spy " around the straw-stack. 



Threshing in the Field 217 

The spirit which made the old-time threshing a festi- 
val, the circumstances which made of it a meeting to- 
gether of neighbors, is now largely a memory. The 
passing of the wheat-field, the growth of stock-farms, the 
increase in machinery, have removed many of the old- 
time customs. Lincoln Stewart walks no more in the 
red dawn of October, his fork on his shoulder, while 
the landscape palpitates in ecstasy, waiting the coming 
of the sun. The frost gleams as of old on the sear 
grass at the roadside, the air is just as crisp and clear. 
The stars are out, Venus burns to her setting, and the 
crickets are sleepily crying in the mottled stubble, but 
Ranee and Milton and Owen are not there to meet the 
majesty of the night. 



THE AUTUMN GRASS 

Have you ever lain low 

In the deeps of the grass, 

In the lee of a swell that uplifts, 

Like a small brown island out of the sea — 

When the bluejoint shakes 

Like a forest of spears. 

When each amber wave breaks 

In bloom overhead, 
And the wind in the doors of your ears 
Is wailing a song of the dead ? 

If so, you have heard in the midst of the roar. 
The note of a lone gray bird. 
Blown slant-wise by overhead. 

Like a fragment of sail 

In the grasp of the gale. 
Hastening home to his southland once more. 

O the music abroad in flie air. 
With the autumn wind sweeping 
His hand through the grass, where 

Each tiniest blade is astir. 

Keeping voice in the dim hid choir — 

In the infinite song, the refrain. 

The majestic wail of the plain ! 
218 










\ > j»^ 








X ^ 








VI 








-♦^ 










r- 






"^^%.*4i 









CHAPTER XVI 



THE CORN HUSKING 



In the autumn of his eleventh year Lincoln again went 
into the stubble-field to plough, and for seventy days 
he journeyed to and fro behind his team, overturning 
nearly one hundred and fifty acres of stubble. When 
he began, the sun was warm and the flies pestiferous, the 
corn green, the melons ripe. As he followed the plough 
the corn grew sear, the melon leaves turned black under 
the heel of frost, the ducks flew south again, the grain- 
stacks disappeared before the thresher, and the buskers 
went forth to gather the ripened corn. All day, and 
every day but Sunday, he worked, seeing the black land 
grow steadily, while slowly but surely the stubble-land 
wasted away. 

It was a harsh day indeed, when he did not work. 
Occasionally for an hour or two during a heavy shower 
he took shelter in the barn, but squalls of snow or rain 
he was not able to avoid without censure. Owen was a 
great comfort to him as before, but he had his own work 
to do in bringing the cattle and in pumping water at the 
well, picking up chips, and other chores. It was lonely 
business, and when at last he had laid aside the plough and 
joined the corn-huskers, Lincoln's heart was very light. 

Already in Sun Prairie husking the corn or "shucking" 
219 



2 20 Boy Life on the Prairie 

it, as people from the South called it, was a considerable 
part of the fall work. Each farmer had a field running 
from twenty to fifty acres, generally near the homestead. 
Along toward the first of October these fields got dry 
and yellow under the combined action of the heat and 
sun. All through the slumbrous days of September the 
tall soldiers of the corn dreamed in the mist of noon, 
and while the sun rolled red as blood to its setting, they 
whispered like sentries awed by the passing of their chief. 
Each day the mournful rustle of the leaves grew louder, 
and flights of noisy passing blackbirds tore at the helpless 
ears with their beaks. The leaves at last were dry as 
vellum. The stalk still held its sap, but the drooping 
ear revealed the nearness of the end. At last the owner, 
plucking an ear, wrung it to listen to its voice; if it 
creaked, it was not yet fit for the barn. It was solid as 
oak, and the next day the teams began the harvest. 

In big fields like that of Mr. Stewart it was the cus- 
tom to husk in the field, and from the standing stalk. 
No one but a stubborn Vermonter like Old Man Bunn 
thought of cutting it up to husk from the shock. With 
Jack, the hired man, Lincoln drove out with a big wagon 
capable of holding fifty bushels of ears. On one side 
was a high " banger board," which enabled the man 
working beside the wagon to throw the husked ears in 
without looking up. The horses walked astride one 
row — bending it beneath the axle; this was called the 
" down row," and was invariably set aside as " the boys' 
row." Lincoln took the down row while Jack husked 
two rows on the left of the wagon. The horses were 



The Corn Husking 221 

started and stopped by the voice alone, and there was 
always a great deal of sound and fury in the process. 
The work was easy and a continual feast for the horses 
after their long, hard siege at ploughing, and right 
heartily they improved the shining days. 

At first this work was not devoid of charm. The 
mornings were frosty but clear, and the sun soon 
warmed the world ; but as the days passed, the boys' 
hands became chapped and sore. Great, painful seams 
developed between the thumb and forefinger, the nails 
wore to the quick, and the balls of each finger became 
tender as boils. The leaves of the corn, ceaselessly 
whipped by the powerful winds, grew ragged, and the 
stalks fell, increasing the number of ears for which the 
husker was forced to stoop. The sun rose later each 
day and took longer to warm the air. At times he failed 
to show his face all day, and the frost hung on till nearly 
noon. 

Husking-gloves became a necessity, but this by no 
means preserved the hands. The rains came and flurries 
of snow ; the gloves, wet and muddy, shrank at night and 
in the morning were hard as iron. They soon wore 
out at the ends where the fingers were sorest, and Mrs. 
Stewart was kept busy sewing on " cots " for Lincoln 
and her husband : even Jack came to the point of accept- 
ing her aid. 

To husk eighty or a hundred bushels of corn during 
the short days of November means making every 
motion count. Every morning, long before daylight, 
Lincoln stumbled out of bed, and dressed with numb 



222 Boy Life on the Prairie 

and swollen fingers, which almost refused to turn a 
button. Outside he could hear the roosters crowing 
far and near. The air was still, and the smoke ran into 
the sky straight as a Lombardy poplar tree. The frost 
was white on everything, and made the boy shiver as he 
thought of the thousands of icy ears he must husk dur- 
ing the day. 

Sore as his hands were, he had his cows to milk be- 
fore he could return to breakfast, which consisted of 
home-made sausages (" snassingers," the boys called 
them) and buckwheat pancakes. 

" You won't get anything more until noon, boys," 
said Mr. Stewart, warningly ; " so fill up." 

Mrs. Stewart flopped the big, brown, steaming disks 
into their plates two or three at a time, and over them 
each man and boy poured some of the delicious fat from 
the sausages, cut them into strips, and having rolled the 
strips into wads, filled their stomachs as a hunter loads 
a gun. 

Often they drove afield while the stars were still 
shining, the wagon clattering and booming over the 
frozen ground, the horses "humped" and full of "go." 
It was very hard for the boy to get limbered up on 
such mornin2:s. The keen wind searched him through 
and through. His scarf chafed his chin, his gloves were 
harsh and unyielding, and the tips of his fingers were 
tender as "felons." The "down" ears were often 
covered with frost or dirt and sometimes with ice, and 
as the sun softened the ground, the mud and dead leaves 
clung; to his feet like a ball and chain to a convict. 



The Corn Husking 223 

Owen shed some tears at times. Mr. Stewart was a 
rapid workman, and it was hard work for the boy to 
keep up the down rows, especially when he was blue 
with cold and in agony because of his mistreated hands. 
When the keen wind and the snow and mud conspired 
against him, it was hard indeed. Each morning was a 
dreaded enemy. 

There were days when ragged gray masses of cloud 
swept down on the powerful northern wind, when there 
was a sorrowful, lonesome moan among the corn rows, 
when the cranes, no longer soaring at ease, drove 
straight into the south, sprawling low-hung in the 
blast, or lost to sight above the flying scud, their necks 
out-thrust, desperately eager to catch a glimpse of their 
shining Mexican seas. 

On Thanksgiving Day, Mr. Stewart, being apprehen- 
sive of snow, hired some extra hands and got out into 
the field as soon as it was light enough to see the rows. 
''We must finish to-day, boys," he said. "We can't 
afford to lose an hour. We're in for a big snow-storm." 

It was a bitter day. Snow and sleet fell at intervals, 
rattling in among the sear stalks with a dreary sound. 
The northeast wind mourned like a dying wolf, and the 
clouds seemed to leap across a sky torn and ragged, roll- 
ing and spreading as in summer tempests. The down 
ears were sealed up with ice and lumps of frozen earth, 
and the stalks, ice-armored on the northern side, creaked 
dismally in the blast. " We need a hammer to crack 
'em open," said one of the men to Mr. Stewart. 

With great-coats belted around them, with worn fin- 



224 Boy Life on the Prairie 

gers covered with new cots, Lincoln and Owen went 
into the field. Thick muffled as they were, the cold 
found them. Slap and swing their hands as they might, 
their fingers and toes would get numb. 

Oh, how they longed for noon ! Though he could not 
afford a holiday, Mr. Stewart had provided turkey and 
cranberry sauce ; and the men talked about it with 
increasing wistfulness as the day broadened. 

" I hope it is a big turkey," said one. 

" Say, I'll trade my cranberry sauce for your piece 
of turkey." 

" Stewart don't know what he's in for." 

It seemed as though the wagon box held a thousand 
bushels ! And the hired man took a malicious delight 
in taunting the boys with lacking " sand." "Smooth 
down your vest and pull up your chin," he said to 
Owen. " Keep your eye on that turkey." 

But the hour of release came at last, and the boys 
were free to " scud for the house." Once within, they 
yanked off their old rags, threw their wet mittens under 
the stove, washed their chafed hands and chapped fingers 
in warm water, and curled up beside the stove, with 
their mouths watering for turkey. " They were all 
eyes and stummick," as Jack said when he came in. 

Once at the feast they ate until their father said, 
" Boys, you must 'a been holler clear to your heels." 

Owen made no reply. He merely let out a reef in his 
waistband and took another leg of turkey. 

But the food and the fire served to show how very 
cold they had been. A fit of shivering came on, which 



The Corn Husking 225 

the fire could not subdue. Lincoln's fingers, swollen 
and painful, palpitated as if a little heart hot with fever 
were in each one. His back was stiff as that of an old 
man. His boots, which he had incautiously pulled off, 
were too small for his swollen chilblain-heated feet, and 
he could not get them on again. 

He wept and shivered, saying, " Oh, I can't go out 
again," but Mr. Stewart was a stern man, who admitted 
no demurrer so far as Lincoln was concerned. Owen, 
shielded by his mother, flatly rebelled. At last, by the 
use of flour and soap, and the help of his mother, Lin- 
coln forced his poor feet back into their prison cells, 
belted on his coat, tied on his rags of mittens, and went 
out, bent, awkward, like an old beggar, tears on his 
cheeks, his teeth chattering. His heart was big with 
indignation, but he dared not complain. 

The horses shivered under their blankets that after- 
noon. The men yelled and jumped about, and slapped 
their hands across their breasts to warm them, but the 
work went on. By four o'clock only a few more rows 
remained, and the cheery, ringing voice of his father 
helped Lincoln to do his part, though the wind was roar- 
ing through the fields with ever increasing volume, 
carrying flurries of feathery snow and shreds of corn 
leaves. 

Slowly the night came. It began to grow dark, 
but the men worked on with desperate energy. They 
were on the last rows, and Lincoln, exalted by the near- 
ness of release, buckled to it with amazing energy, his 
small figure lost in the dusk behind the wagon. Jack 
Q 



226 Boy Life on the Prairie 

only knew he was there when he pounded on the end- 
gate to start the horses ; the boy's own voice was gone. 
There was an excitement as of battle in the work now, 
and he almost forgot his bleeding hands and the ache in 
his back. The field grew mysterious, vast, and inhos- 
pitable as the wind. The touch of the falling snow to 
his cheek was like the caress of death's ghostly finger-tips. 

Belated flocks of geese swept by at most furious 
speed, their voices sounding anxious, their talk hurried. 

Suddenly a wild yell broke out. One of the teams 
had broken through the last rows. Jack and Lincoln 
answered it, being not far behind. 

" Hurrah ! Tell 'em we're comin'." 

Five minutes later, and they, too, reached the last 
hill of corn. Night had come, but the field was finished. 
The extra help had proved sufficient. " Now let it 
snow," said Stewart. 

It was good to see the lights shining in the kitchen, 
and, oh, it was delicious comfort to creep in behind the 
stove once more, and feel that husking was over. It was 
better than the supper, though the supper was good. 

When quite filled with food, Lincoln crept back to 
the fire, and opening the oven door, laid a piece of wood 
thereon, upon which to set his heels, and there he sat 
till the convulsive tremor went out of his breast and his 
teeth ceased to chatter. His mother brought him some 
bran and water in which to soak his poor claws of 
fingers, and so he came at last to a measure of comfort. 
At nine o'clock the boys crept upstairs to bed. 



BOYISH SLEEP 

And all night long they lie in sleep 

Too deep to sigh in or to dream. 
Unmindful how the wild winds sweep 

Or snow-clouds through the darkness stream 
Above the trees that moan and cry. 
Clutching with naked hands the flying sky. 

Beneath their checkered counterpane 
They rest the soundlier for the storm ; 

Its wrath is only lullaby, 

A dim, far-off, and vast refrain. 




^ 



227 



PART II 



BOY LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE 



CHAPTER XVII 

THE COMING OF THE CIRCUS 

There were always three great public holidays, — 
the Fourth of July, the circus, and the Fair, which was 
really an autumn festival. To these was added the 
Grange picnic, which came in about 1875 and took 
place on the 12th of June. Of all these, the circus 
was easily the first of importance ; even the Fourth 
of July grew pale and of small account in the " glit- 
tering, gorgeous Panorama of Polychromatic Pictures," 
which once a year visited the county town, bringing 
the splendors of the great outside world in golden 
clouds, mystic as the sky at sunset. The boy whose 
father refused to take him wept with no loss of dig- 
nity in the eyes of his fellows. He could even swear 
in his disappointment and be excused for it. 

The boys of Sun Prairie generally went. Nearly all 
of them had some understanding with their fathers, 
whereby they earned the half-dollars necessary for their 
tickets. This silver piece seemed big as the moon 
when it was being earned, but it was small and mean 

231 



2^2 Boy Life on the Prairie 

beside the diitv blue slip of cardboard which admitted 
" bearer " to the pleasures of the circus. Lincoln and 
Owen earned their money bv killing gophers. Ranee 
was paid for herding. Ben raised chickens. 

June was usually the month for the circus. In those 
days, even the " colossal caravans " did not travel in 
special trains, but came across the country in the night 
and bloomed out in white canvas under the rising sun, 
like mysterious and splendid mushrooms, seemingly as 
permanent as granite to the awed country lads who 
came to gaze timidly from afar. 

No one but a country boy can rightly measure the 
majesty and allurement of a circus. To go from the 
lonely prairie or the dusty corn-field and come face 
to face with the " amazing aggregation of world-wide 
wonders" was like enduring the visions of the Apoca- 
lypse. From the moment the advance man flung a 
handful of gorgeous bills over the corn-field fence, to 
the golden morning of the glorious day, the boys specu- 
lated and argued and dreamed of the glorious " pageant 
of knights and ladies, glittering chariots, stately ele- 
phants, and savage tigers," which wound its way down 
the long yellow posters, a glittering river of Elysian 
splendors, emptying itself into the tent, which housed 
the " World's Congress of Wonders." 

The boys met in groups on Sunday and compared 
posters, while lying beneath the rustling branches of 
the Cottonwood trees. Ranee, who always had what 
he wanted and went where he pleased, was authority. 
He had seen three circuses before — Lincoln only one. 



The Coming of the Circus 233 

From the height of his great experience, Ranee said : 
"No circus is ever as good as its bills. If it is half 
as good, we ought to be satisfied." 

The important question was : " Shall we go in the 
afternoon or in the evening ? " The evening was said 
by some to be much the best. Others stood out for 
the afternoon. Milton suggested going to both, but 
such extravagance was incredible, even to Ranee. No 
banker was ever known to do such a preposterous 
thino;. 

" Well, then, let's go down to the parade in the 
morning, and hang round and see all the fun we can, 
and go to the circus in the evening." 

To this Lincoln made objection. "We'd all be 
sick by that time." 

The justice of this remark was at once acknowledged. 
Only one thing remained to do, — see the usual morn- 
ing parade, then lunch, and go early to see the ani- 
mals. They parted with this arrangement, but at the 
last moment their plans were overruled by their parents, 
who quietly made ready to go in the big wagons and 
family carriages ; and the boys were bidden to accom- 
pany their mothers, who considered a circus much 
more dangerous than a Fourth of July. 

So, early on the promiseful day, Lincoln and Owen, 
seated on a board placed across the wagon box behind 
the spring seat (on which the parents sat), jarred and 
bounced on their way to the county town, while 
Ranee galloped along in gay freedom on his horse. 
Milton was another unwilling guest of his parents. 



234 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

and sat in the back seat of the old family carryall, with 
a sense of being thrust back into childhood. 

Other teams were on the road : young men and 
their sweethearts in one-seated " coyered buggies," while 
other parties of four and six rumbled along in big 
wagons trimmed with green branches. The Richard- 
sons went by with the box of their lumber wagon 
quite overflowing with children and dogs; and Mr. 
Stewart remarked that " such men would pawn the 
cook-stove to go to the circus," but Lincoln did not 
share his father's disgust. It seemed to him that poor 
folks needed the circus just as much as any one — 
more, in fact. 

Teams came streaming in over every road till the 
town was filled as if it were the Fourth of July. 
Accustomed to the silence of the fields, or the infre- 
quent groups of families in the school-houses, the prairie 
boys bowed with awe before the coming together of two 
thousand people. It seemed as if Cedar County and 
part of Cerro Gordo had assembled. Neighbors greeted 
each other in the midst of the throng with such fervor 
as travellers show when they unexpectedly meet in far- 
off Asiatic cities. 

Every child waited in nervous impatience for the 
parade, which was not a piece of shrewd advertising 
to them, but a solemn function, A circus without a 
parade was unthinkable. It began somewhere — the 
country boys scarcely knew where — far in the mys- 
tery of the East and passed before their faces, — the 
pageantry of " Ivanhoe " and the " Arabian Nights," 



The Coming of the Circus i^S 

and red Indians, and Mohammedanism and negro slav- 
ery, — in procession. It trailed a glorified dust, through 
which foolish and slobbering camels, and solemn and 
kingly lions, and mournful and sinister tigers, moved, 
preceded by the mountainous and slow-moving ele- 
phants, two and two, chained and sullen, while closely 
following, keeping step to the jar of great drums and 
the blaring voices of trumpets, ladies, beautiful and 
haughty of glance, with firmly-moulded busts, rode on 
parti-colored steeds with miraculous skill, their voices 
sounding small in the clangor of the streets. They 
were accompanied by knights corsletted in steel, with 
long plumes floating from their gleaming helmets. 
They, too, looked over the lowly people of the dusty 
plains with lofty and disdainful glance. Even the 
drivers on the chariots seemed weary and contemptu- 
ous as they swayed on their high seat, or cried in 
far-reaching voices to their leaders, who did not dis- 
dain to curvet for their rustic admirers. 

The town boys, alert and self-sufficient, ran alongside 
the open chariot where the lion-tamer sat, surrounded 
by his savage pets, but the country boys could only stand 
and look, transfixed with pleasure and pain, — the 
pleasure of looking upon it, the pain of seeing it pass. 
They were wistful figures, standing there in dusty, ill- 
fitting garments, sensitive, subtle instruments on which 
the procession played, like a series of unrelated grandi- 
ose chords. As the lion passed, vague visions of vast 
deserts rose in their minds. Amid toppling towers 
these royal beasts prowled in the vivid moonlight. The 



236 Boy Life on the Prairie 

camels came, reachino- long necks athwart the shadows 
of distant, purple pyramids, and on hot sands at sunset, 
travellers, with garments outblown by the sirocco, passed 
near a crouching Arab. Mounted on elephants with up- 
lifted trunks, tiger-hunters rode through long yellow grass. 
The feudal tournaments rolled back with the elitterino; 
knights. The wealth of the Indies shone in the golden 
chariots of the hippopotami. The jungles of Hindoo- 
stan were symbolized in the black and yellow bodies of 
the tigers, the heat of Africa shone from their terrible 
eyes. All that their readers, histories, and geographies 
had taught them seemed somehow illustrated, illumi- 
nated, irradiated, by this gorgeous pageantry. 

When it passed, Lincoln found his legs stiffened and 
his hands numb. Owen's unresisting fingers, close 
clasped in his, testified to his absorbed interest. Upon 
this trance, this sleep of flesh and not of imagination, the 
voice of their father broke sharply. 

"Well, boys. That's all of it. Now we'll go and 
get some dinner." In such wise does practical middle 
age justle the elbow of the dreaming boy. 

Lincoln drew a deep sigh and turned away. He had 
no desire to follow the chariots, but he wished they 
would all come his way again. 

Out on a vacant lot on a back street, in the shade of 
their wagon, Mrs. Stewart set out a lunch, and while 
the horses munched over the end-gate, the boys tried to 
eat, but with small success. The cold chicken was quite 
tasteless, the biscuits were like cotton-batting — only 
the jelly cake and the cold tea had power to interest 



The Coming of the Circus 237 

them. Lincoln was eager to get to the grounds, and 
heartily wished his father would let him go alone. It 
was humiliating to be forced to tag along behind, lead- 
ing Owen by the hand, but the time for rebellion had 
not yet come. 

At last, after agonies of impatience, while the mother 
put things in order and brushed her own clothes as well 
as those of little Mary, the family set out, joining the 
streams of people converging upon the grounds. The 
country folk tramped heavily along the unaccustomed 
sidewalks, while the townspeople, lighter shod and 
defter moving, in groups, seemed like another race of 
beings. Their women were more graceful and gayer. 
The town boys, many of them, wore new suits that fit, 
with stylish straw hats, and they went unattended by 
elders, chattering like blackbirds. The bankers drove 
their families down in fine carriages, and the District 
Attorney, going by in a white " Manila " hat, with a 
wide black band, said, " Good afternoon. Neighbor 
Stewart," and Lincoln bobbed his head while his father 
saluted. 

As they came out upon the green, the huge white 
tents, the fluttering flags, the crowds of people, the 
advertisements of the side-shows, the cries of the ticket- 
sellers and lemonade and candy men, appalled the coun- 
try boys, and they were glad to keep in the protective 
shadow of their resolute and stalwart father. The 
tumult was benumbing. On the left of the path was a 
long line of side-shows, with enormous billowinp; canvas 
screens, on which were rudely painted the wonders 



238 Boy Life on the Prairie 

within, — a pig playing a viohn, an armless man sewing 
with his toes, a bearded lady, a fat boy, a man taking a 
silk hat from a bottle, while on a stool before each door 
stood alert and brazen-voiced young men, stern, con- 
temptuous, and alien of face, declaring the virtues of 
each show, and inviting the people to enter. Lincoln 
could have listened to these people all day, so fascinated 
was he by their faces, so different from those he knew. 
They were so wise and self-contained, and certain of 
themselves, these men. To them the noise, the crowd, 
the confusion, were parts of ordinary, daily life. 

"You have still a half an hour, ladies and gentlemen, 
before the great show opens," one called with monoto- 
nous, penetrating, clanging utterances, like a rusty bell. 
*' Still a half an hour to see the wonders of the world, 
Adadame Ogoleda, the snake woman. Walk in — walk 
in ; only a dime to see this wondrous woman and her 
monstrous serpent. The Bible story related. The 
woman and the snake. Only a dime apiece." 

"He is! He is!" called another. "The fattest 
boy in the world. He weighs four hundred and eighty 
pounds. See him eat his dinner. Only a dime to see 
the fat boy eat a whole ham ! " 

" Professor Henrv, court wizard of Beelzebub himself. 
Come in and see the great and marvellous man. You 
can see a glutton cat any dav, but this is your only 
chance to see the magician of Mahomet. The Magi of 
the East ! The King of Conjurors! " called a third. 

At this moment, just as they were passing the door, 
the sound of a blow was heard, and a stern voice cried, 
" You come with me." 



The Coming of the Circus 239 

Oaths and the sound of a struggle followed, and the 
canvas side of the tent waved to and fro violently. Then 
a voice rose in command, — 

"Clear the way there," and others replied, — 

" All right, Jim ; hang to him." 

As the spectators outside stopped, the man on the 
stool sprang down, crying, — 

" What's the matter in there ? " 

At this precise moment, a powerfully built man, with 
a stern and handsome face, came from the tent, holding 
a revolver in his right hand, with his left fastened to 
the collar of a wiry, slick-looking fellow, who was bare- 
headed and foaming with rage. 

" Drop that man ! " yelled the ticket-seller. 

" Get out of the way," said the heavy man, quietly. 

The ticket-seller put his fingers in his mouth and 
blew a sharp whistle. 

The man with the revolver swept his weapon around, 
and laid the ticket-seller flat on the ground by a blow 
on the temple. 

The crowd cheered. " Good for you, Jim ! " 

" What's up, Jim ? " cried a dozen others. 

The immense throng lost all interest in the circus, 
and closed around the scene like a wall. The Stewarts 
found themselves fenced in and unable to escape, even 
had they desired it. Lincoln was quite in front now 
and knew that this was Jim iVIoriarty, Sheriff of the 
county. The crowd was wild with excitement. The 
criers had ceased their clatter, and men were approaching 
from every direction. Oaths, jeers, signals, could be 



240 Boy Life on the Prairie 

heard ; but Jim, with keen, round gray eyes, faced his new 
antagonists, with ready revolver. 

The ticket-seller sprang to his feet, with the blood 
streaming from his wound. 

" I'll kill vou ! " he hoarsely snarled. 

" It's the Sheriff, you fool," said a companion. 

" Sheriff, and the best man in the country, bar none," 
said a townsman. 

Jim explained. "This is a thimble-rigger. He's 
wanted in Cerro Gordo for robbery — and he goes." 

The crowd laughed. " You bet he goes. We know 
VOU, Jim. Go ahead." 

Jim said : " And I want you, me friend, for inter- 
ferrin' with an officer in the discharge of his duty. 
Open a path, b'ys." 

The crowd opened a lane, and Jim said, " Go before 
me, an' don't look back." 

"If you weren't an officer and armed, you couldn't 
take me," replied the angry man. 

Jim smiled grimly. " My friend, ye' re too ambitious. 
Ye're a foine bit of a b'y, but too soft to talk loike that 
to a workin' man." 

" For a copper I'd show you." 

" Has anny one a copper ? " asked Jim. " I'm an ac- 
commodatin' man." 

The circus men pushed to the front, so far as possi- 
ble, but fell to sullen silence when told it was the 
Sheriff The manager, red of face, and dripping per- 
spiration, his silk hat at an anxious angle, appeared at 
this moment. 



The Coming of the Circus 241 

"What's all this? Are you the Sheriff? What's 
wanted ? Let that man go ! " 

Jim turned on him. " Kape a civil tongue in yer 
head, an' shove out yer sharpers, or it'll go hard with 
ye to get out o' the county." 

" This is a straight show. I want you to understand 
nothing goes crooked around me. I won't have my 
men interfered with. I won't have no gay sheriff 
jumpin' — " 

" Listen ! " said Jim, swift and sharp. " Open yer 
jaw at me agin, and I'll break yer silk hat, and stuff yer 
t'roat with the pieces." 

A man in the crowd yelled : " Lay a hand on our 
Sheriff, and, by God, we'll lynch every man o' ye," and 
the roar that followed made the manager's red face 
change to a ghastly white. He turned and walked away 
amid the laughter of the citizens. 

The ticket-seller was pacing up and down : — 

"Oh, if you weren't Sheriff! I'd learn you to strike 
me. I'd waller ye till your mother wouldn't know ye." 

Jim winked at the crowd : " He has a consate of his 
powers that is commuck. Will somebody hold me 
thimble-rigger for a few seconds ? " 

A big man stepped out. " I'll take care of him." 

" All right, Steve. It's a holiday. I've a little con- 
sate of meself, and it won't take long, annyway." He 
handed his revolver to his deputy, and took off his coat. 
" Now, me lad. I've laid down me authority wid me 
coat. I'm plain Jim Moriarity,from theWapseypinnicon, 
wishin' to be instructed ; but be quick, or you'll delay 

R 



242 Bov Life on the Prairie 

the circus." The fellow hesitated a moment. Jim's 
brow darkened. " Come ahn, or I'll lift ye on the toe 
of me boot." 

The ticket-seller squared off as Jim drew near, and 
began dancing around with his arms in fighting posture, 
but Jim only faced him with a smile on his handsome 
brown face, his hands carelessly hanging at his sides. 
At last the circus man struck out, but fell short, and 
Jim cuffed him on the cheek with the flat of his palm. 

" Wake up, me lad," he called. 

With a curse the ticket man leaped forward, striking 
out furiously. Jim stepped aside, and as the man went 
by, struck him behind the ear. He fell like a log, and 
Jim, taking him by the collar, set him on his feet. 
"Try it onct more, me bucco." 

He did try again, wildly, blindly, and Jim cuffed him 
ri2;ht and left, till he spun round dizzily on his feet; 
then taking him by the collar, kicked him in the rear 
till he sprawled on his hands and knees. Jim lifted him 
again, amid the laughter of the crowd. Every man, 
woman, and child knew his wonderful powers, and took 
personal pride therein. The second time he landed, 
the man did not rise, and Jim said, "Anny time when 
I'm not busv, I'll be glad to have fun with ye, or anny 
of yer mates." 

He came back, and said : " We've still a few minutes 
to spare. Is there anny other gentleman would like to 
amuse the crowd ? Me father was born in Donegal, and 
dearly loved a shindy." No one offered, and Jim put 
on his coat. " Now, me friend," he said, returning to 



The Coming of the Circus 243 

his professional tone, " we'll lave the people to enjoy 
the show." He deftly snapped a handcuff to the pris- 
oner's right arm, and put the other to his own wrist. 
Steve handed over the revolver. Jim lifted his eyes : 
" Go ahn to the show, b'ys. Come," he said to his 
prisoner ; " if ye break so much as the skin av me wrist, 
I'll kill ye." 

As they walked down the lane of grinning citizens, 
the prisoner kept close, very close, to his captor's side. 

Then the tide of sound swept back. The cries began 
again. The pent-up excitement of the crowd broke 
forth in a clatter of talk, as they moved away toward 
the big tent, where a splendid band was playing furiously, 
and the ticket-seller was crying in a monstrous voice : — 

" Right this luay to the big show ! The only entrance ! 
Have your tickets ready ! " 

Carried along by the pressure of the crowd, the boys 
neared the entrance, their blue tickets crushed to a 
pulp in their sweaty hands. The stern and noisy gate- 
keeper snatched at them, and a moment later they were 
inside the animal tent, and the circus was just before 
them. But somehow, the breathless interest of the 
morning was gone. The human drama before the side- 
show had put the wonders of the menagerie on a differ- 
ent plane. For a few moments all the talk was of the 
Sheriff and his victim. 

Slowly but surely the power of " the circus " reas- 
serted its dominion over the boys, as they moved slowly 
round the circle of the chariots, wherein the strange 
animals from the ends of the earth were on view. The 



244 -^oy Life on the Prairie 

squalling of parrakeets, the chatter and squawk of mon- 
keys, the snorting of elephants, the deep, short, gusty 
elemental ough of the lions, the occasional snarl of the 
leopards, restlessly pacing, with vcllow-green eyes glar- 
ing, the strange, odd, hot smells, — all these made the 
human fist very small and of no account. These beings 
whose footfalls were like velvet on velvet, whose bodies 
were swift as shadows and as terrible as catapults, whose 
eyes emitted the blaze of undving hate ; these mon- 
strous, watery, wide-mouthed, warty, uncouth creatures 
from rivers so remote that geographers had not reached 
them ; these birds that outshone the prairie flowers in 
coloring -, these serpents whose lazy, glittering coils con- 
cealed the strength of a hundred chains, — these forms too 
diverse to be the work of Nature, stupefied Lincoln, and 
he stumbled on, a mere brain insecurely toppling on a 
numb and awkward body. All the pictures of the 
school-books, all the chance drawings in the periodicals 
open to him, all the stories of the sea and far countries, 
were resurged and vivified in his brain, till it boiled like 
a kettle of soap ; and then, on top of it all, came the 
men and women of the circus proper. 

Stumbling along behind the broad shoulders of his 
father, hearing and not heeding the anxious words of his 
mother, " Keep close to us, boys," Lincoln passed from 
the pungent air of the animal tent out into the ring of 
the circus, which crackled with the cries of alert men 
selling fans, ice-cream, sticks of candy, and bags of 
peanuts. It was already packed with an innumerable 
throng of people, whose faces were as vague to the boys 



The Coming of the Circus 245 

as the fans they swung. Overhead the canvas lifted 
and billowed, and the poles creaked and groaned, and 
the rope snapped with the strain of the brisk outside 
wind. To Lincoln it seemed nearly a quarter of a mile 
across the ring, and he feared the performance might 
begin before they got safely out of it and seated. The 
feel of the sawdust under his feet was a thing long to be 
remembered. 

Jokes and rude cries passed between those already 
seated and the families wandering along with faces up- 
turned like weary chickens looking for a roost. Mr. 
Stewart heard a familiar voice, and looking up, saw Mr. 
Jennings, who was pointing to a vacant strip of plank 
near him. 

" There's our place, mother," said Mr. Stewart. 

" Away up there ? Good land ! " exclaimed she, in 
dismay. 

" All a part of the show," replied her husband. 

They climbed slowly up the terraced seats of thin 
and narrow boards, and at last found themselves seated 
not far from the Jennings family. 

" Where do we put our feet ? " inquired Mrs. Stewart. 

"Anywhere you can get 'em," replied Milton. 

" They don't improve on their seats," said Mr. Jen- 
nings. " It seems to me the seats used to be a good 
deal wider." 

" You were young then. Neighbor Jennings." 

" I guess that's the truth of it." 

The boys did not think of making complaint. It 
was enough for them that they were at last on a seat, 



246 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ready for the wonders of the performance. The band 
was already beating upon Lincoln's sensitive brain, with 
a swift and brazen clangor, and at a signal twelve uni- 
formed attendants filed into the ring and the gates were 
closed. The band flared out into a strongly accentuated 
march, and forth from the mystic gateway came the 
knights and their ladies, riding two and two on splendid 
horses, and the boys thrilled with the joy of it. They 
were superb horsemen, these riders, and the prairie boys 
were able to understand and appreciate their skill. 
Nothing was lost on them ; every turn of the knee, 
every supple twist of the waist was observed, never to 
be forgotten. The pride and joy of the action, the 
ringing cries, the exultant strength of the horses, who 
seemed to enjoy it quite as much as their riders, — these 
things went deep with Lincoln and his playmates. 

The color, the glitter, the grace of gesture, the pre- 
cision of movement, all so alien to the plains — so 
different from the slow movement of stiffened old 
farmers and faded and angular women, as well as from 
the shy and awkward manners of the beaux and belles 
of the country dances ; the pliant joints and tireless 
limbs, the cool, calm judgment, the unerring eves, the 
beautiful muscular bodies of the fearless women — a 
thousand impressions, new and deep-reaching, followed 
so swiftly that Lincoln had no time to even enjoy them. 
He could only receive and taste — he could not digest 
and feed. 

Oh, to be one of those fine and splendid riders, with 
no more corn to plough, or hav to rake, or corn to husk. 



The Coming of the Circus I47 

To go forth into the great, mysterious world, in the 
company of those grand men and lovely women ; to be 
always admired by thousands, to bow and graciously 
return thanks, to wear a star upon his breast, to be able 
to live under the shining canvas in the sound of music. 
In such course Lincoln's vague aspirations ran. He 
had no desire to serve as ring-master. To be the man- 
ager and wear a white vest and tall hat was of small 
account, but to be " an artist " was the finest career in 
the world. 

One of the clowns was not a good clown, but he was 
a strong man. He formed the walking pedestal for the 
deft performance of two fine acrobats. He was a 
spotted clown, with an enormous, artificial belly, and was 
very loud and boisterous, but the audience did not like 
him so well as the little short, stout man, who sang 
" Little Brown Jug," " May slap-jacks hang an inch 
on me if ever I cease to love," and "Where was Moses 
when the Light went out ? " 

The spotted clown was following the singer about, 
imitating his walk, when a man in citizen's dress came 
quietly walking out of the inner entrance into the ring, 
and laid his hand on him. It was Jim, the Sheriff. A 
great shout went up from the crowd. 

The clown wrenched himself loose, and running 
swiftly backward a i'ew steps, threw a somersault, intend- 
ing to strike the Sheriff in the breast with his feet. Jim 
evaded him with a lightning-swift movement, and 
struck him, just as he landed on the sand, and he went 
down with a heavy sound. He bounded to his feet, but 



248 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Jim was at his ear with his left, and he went to the 
earth again. Five or six attendants came running — 
the ring-master clubbed his whip to strike, but he did 
not. A roar went up, the like of which he had never 
heard before. And over the ropes, tumbling, shouting, 
cursing, the men of the benches broke, like a grislvj 
grav-black flood. The ropes were cut, the stakes pulled 
up for weapons, and in a breath a densely packed ring 
of angry men surrounded the indomitable Sheriff and his 
new antagonists. 

For a few moments all was confusion and frenzy ; 
nothing could be seen and heard. At last those in front 
turned and thrust their palms in the air, and hissed for 
silence, and almost immediatelv the penetrating, har- 
monious voice of the Sheriff could be heard. 

" B'ys, ye can see better on yer seats. Go back; 
I'll attend to this small business. Go back, I say, and 
lave me to me work. This man is not a clown ; he's a 
crook, and I need him to make a pair." 

The crowd laughed and yelled, " You're all right, 
Jim." 

" I am. You're all lurong. Go back, I say." The 
crowd laughed, and uttering exclamations of amusement 
and pride in Jim, clambered back to their seats. 

When the ring cleared, Jim was seen standing with 
the clown handcuffed to his left wrist, a revolver in his 
right hand facing the ring-master, the manager, and a 
crowd of circus people. 

" Be quiet ! " he was saying. " B'ys," — he turned to 
the acrobats and equestrians, — "I've nothin' agin ye. 



The Coming of the Circus 249 

I'm sorry to interrupt the fun, but no three-card monte 
man can play in this county while I'm Sheriff. And as 
to you, me beauty," he said, addressing the manager, " I 
am not so sure you don't stand in with these crooks. 
Me advice is, when ye come agin, lave the thieves 
behind. Come, me man." 

The clown sullenly complied, and with his drawn 
revolver in his hand, Jim walked toward the exit, fol- 
lowed by hundreds of the men who wanted to see that 
no evil befell their hero. 

This practically ended the circus. In vain the criers 
went over the audience, shouting : — 

"Tickets for the Minstrel Show only a quarter of a 
dollar. Let no one miss the songs and dances to fol- 
low. A grand entertainment will follow the final 
act ! " 

To the boys, the incident came as a disagreeable 
interruption. It was exciting, but was out of place. 
They grumbled at missing the lion-tamer's act and the 
dance of the elephants. 

Both the Stewart and Jennings families had remained 
in their seats during the arrest of the clown, and at Mr. 
Jennings's suggestion they waited while the crowd rushed 
out. 

"We'll take a little more time to see the animals," 
said Mr. Stewart. " Jim will take care of the 
man." 

But the charm of the circus was broken, so far as 
Lincoln was concerned. The day had been too excit- 
ing. His head was throbbing with pain, and the smells 



^5^) Boy Life on the Prairie 

of the animal tent were intolerable. Only the lions and 
tigers interested him, and when he came out into the 
clear, sweet air and felt the fresh wind in his face, he 
wished he were already at home. The end of all holi- 
days were the same to him ; sickness, weariness, pain, 
and aching muscles and a gorged brain, blotted out all 
the pleasures that had gone before. 

As he pounded up and down on the board behind his 
father and mother, he had no words to say, no thoughts 
which were articulate. His brain was a whirling wheel, 
wherein all his impressions were blurred into bands of 
gray and brown and gold and scarlet. But in the days 
that followed, the splendid men and women reasserted 
themselves. His brain cleared, and as he lay with Ranee 
under the rustling poplars on Sunday, he could pick out 
and dreamily define the events of the day. The SherifFs 
dramatic actions came to be an entirely separate thing — 
a thing to be condemned, for it interrupted the circus, 
which they had all gone to see. 

One by one the splendid acts, the specially beautiful 
women, and the most wonderful men were recalled and 
named and admired, and Ranee compared them with the 
events of other circuses. But deeper down, more im- 
palpable, more intangible, subtler, — so subtle they ran 
like aromatic wine throughout his very blood and bone, — 
were other impressions which threw the prairie into new 
relief and enhanced the significance of the growing 
corn as well as the splendor of the pageant which had 
come and gone like the gold and crimson clouds at sun- 
set. 



The Coming of the Circus 251 

Lincoln had a dream now, that the world was wide, 
and filled with graceful men and wondrous women, as 
well as with innumerable monsters and glittering, harsh- 
throated birds and slumbrous serpents. Some day, when 
he was a man, he would go forth and look upon the 
realities of his dream. 



A SUMMER MOOD 

O TO be lost in the wind and the sun, 

To be one with the grass and the stream, 
With never a care while the waters run, 

With never a thought in my dream ; 
To be part of the robin's lilting call. 

And part of the bobolink's chime, 
Lying close to the shy thrush singing alone, 

And lapped in the cricket's rhyme ! 

O to live with these care-free ones, 

With the lust and the glory of man 
Lost in the circuit of springtime suns — 

Submissive as earth, and a part of her plan ; 
To lie as the snake lies, content in the grass ; 

To drift as the clouds drift — effortless, free. 
Glad of the power that drives them on, 

With never a question of wind or sea! 
252 



CHAPTER XVIII 



A CAMPING TRIP 



It was the fifteenth of June, and the sun blazed 
down on the dry corn-field, as if it had a spite against 
Lincoln, who was riding a gayly-painted new sulky 
corn-plough, guiding the shovels with his feet. The 
corn was about knee-high, and rustled softly, almost 
as if whispering, not yet large enough to speak aloud. 

Riding about all day, in such a level field, with the 
sun burning one's neck brown as a leather glove, is apt 
to make one dream of cool river pools, where the water- 
snakes wiggle across, and the kingfishers fly, or of bright 
ripples where the rock bass love to play. 

It was about four o'clock, and Lincoln was tired. 
His neck ached ; his feet were swollen, and his tongue 
calling out for a drink of water. He got off the plough, 
after turning the horses' heads to the faint western breeze, 
and took a seat on the fence in the shade of a small 
popple tree on which a king-bird had a nest. 

Somebody was galloping up the road in a regular rise 
and fall, that showed the perfect horseman and easy 
rider. It was Milton. 

" Hello, Lincoln ! " shouted Milton. 

" Hello, Milt," Lincoln returned. " Why ain't you 
at home workin' like an honest man ? " 

253 



254 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" Better business on hand. I've come clear over here 
to-day to see you — " 

" Well, here I am;" 

" Let's go to Clear Lake." 

Lincoln stared hard at him. 

" D'ye mean it ? " 

" You bet. I can put in a horse. Bert Jenks will 
lend us his boat — put it right on in place of the wagon 
box — we can borrow Captain Knapp's tent." 

" I'm with you," yelled Lincoln, leaping down, his 
face aglow with the idea. " But say, won't you go up 
and break it gently to the boss. He's got his mind kind 
o' set on goin' through this corn again. When'll we 
start ? " 

"Let's see — to-day is Wednesday. We ought to 
get off on Monday." 

"Well, now, if you don't mind. Milt, I'd like to have 
you go up and see what father says." 

"I'll fix him," said Milton. "Where is he?" 

" Right up the road, mending fence." 

He was so tickled he not only leaped the fence, but 
sprang into the high seat from behind and started on 
another round, singing, showing how instantly hope of 
play can lighten a boy's task. But when he came back 
to the fence Milton was not in sight, and his heart fell a 
little — the outlook was not so assuring. 

It was nearly an hour later when Milton came riding 
back and stood by the fence, waiting. Lincoln looked 
up and saw him wave his hand and heard his shout. 
The victory was won. Mr. Stewart had consented. 



A Camping Trip 255 

Lincoln whooped with such wild delight that the 
horses grew frightened, and swerving to the right, 
ploughed up two rows of corn for several rods before 
they could be brought back into place. 

"It's all O.K.," Milton called. "But I've got to 
come over with my team and help you go through the 
corn the other way." 

From that on, nothing else was thought of or talked 
of. Each night the four boys got together at Mr. Jen- 
nings's house, each time bringing things that they needed. 
In their dreams, the gleam of the lake drew nearer. 
They had never looked upon a sheet of water larger 
than the mill-pond on the Cedar River, and the cool 
wind of that beautiful lake of which they had heard so 
much seemed to beckon them. The boat was carefully 
mended, and Ranee, who was a good deal of a sailor, 
naturally talked about making a sail for it. 

Lists of articles were carefully drawn up thus : — 

4 tin cups, 4 knives and forks, 

I spider, i kettle, etc. 

Sunday afternoon, at Sunday-school, the campers be- 
came the centre of attraction for the other small boys, 
and quite a number went home with Lincoln to look 
over the preparations. 

There stood the vehicle — a common lumber wagon, 
with a boat for the box, projecting dangerously near the 
horses' tails, and trailing far astern. From the edges of 
the boat arose a few hoops, making a kind of cover, like 
a prairie schooner. In the box were " traps " innumer- 



256 Boy Life on the Prairie 

able in charge of Bert, who was " chief cook and bottle- 
washer." 

Each man's duty had been assigned. Lincoln was to 
take care of the horses, Milton was to look after the 
tent and places to sleep. Ranee was treasurer, and Bert 
was the cook, with the treasurer to assist. All these 
preparations amused an old soldier like Captain Knapp. 

" Are you going to get back this fall ? " he asked 
slyly, as he stood about, enjoying the talk. 

" We'll try to," replied Milton. 

But there the thing stood, all ready to sail at day- 
break, with no wind or tide to prevent, and every boy 
who saw it said, — 

" I wish I could go." 

And the campers, not selfish in their fun, felt a pang 
of pity, and said, — 

"We wish you could, boys." 

It was arranged that they were all to sleep in the 
craft that night, and so as night fell, and the visitors 
drew off, the four navigators went into the kitchen, 
where Airs. Jennings set out some bread and milk for 
them. 

*' Now, boys, d'ye suppose you got bread enough ? " 

" We've got twelve loaves." 

"Well, of course you can buy bread and milk, so I 
guess you won't starve." 

" I guess not — not with fish plenty," they assured her. 

" Well, now, don't set up too late, talk'in about 
gettin' off." 

" We're goin' to turn right in, ain't we, boys ? " 



A Camping Trip 257 

" You bet. We're goin' to get out of here before 
sun-up to-morrow mornin'," replied Bert. 

" Well, see't you do," said Mr. Jennings, who liked 
to see boys have a good time. " But I guess I'll be up 
long before you are." 

" Don't be too sure o' that." 

It was delicious going to bed in that curious place, 
with the stars shining in, and the katydids singing. It 
gave them all a new view of life. 

" Now, the first feller that wakes up, yell," said Bert, 
as he crept under the blanket. 

" First feller asleep, whistle," said Lincoln. 

" That won't be you, that's sure," grumbled Ranee, 
already dozing. 

As a matter of fact, no one slept much. About two 
o'clock they began, first one, and then the other : — 

" Say, boys, don't you think it's about time ? " 

" Boys, it's gettin' daylight in the east ! " 

" No, it ain't. That's the moon." 

At last the first faint light of the sun appeared, and 
Lincoln arose and fed the team, and harnessed them 
while the other boys got everything in readiness. 

Mr. Jennings came out soon, and Mrs. Jennings got 
some hot coff'ee for them, and before the sun was any- 
where near the horizon, they said good-by and were 
off. Mr. Jennings shouted many directions about the 
road, while Mrs. Jennings told them again to be care- 
ful on the water. 

To tell the truth, the boys were a little fagged at 
first, but at last the sun rose, the robins chattered, the 
s 



258 Boy Life on the Prairie 

bobolinks began to ring their fairy bells, the larks 
whistled from the meadows, and the boys began to sing. 
For the first hour or two the road was familiar and 
excited no interest. But at last they began to come 
upon new roads, new fields, and new villages. Streams 
came down the slopes and ran musically across the 
wood, as if on purpose to water their horses. Wells 
beside the road, under silver-leaf maples, invited them 
to stop and drink and lunch. Boys they didn't know, 
going out to work, stopped and looked at them envi- 
ously. How glorious it all was ! 

The sun grew hot, and at eleven o'clock they drew 
up in a beautiful grove of oaks, beside a swift and spark- 
ling little river, for dinner and to rest their sweaty 
team. They concluded to eat doughnuts and drink 
milk for dinner, and this gave them time to fish a little, 
and swim a good deal, while the horses munched hay 
under the trees. 

After a good long rest, they hitched the team in 
again, and started on toward the west. They had still 
half-way (twenty-five miles) to go. The way grew 
stranger. The land, more broken and treeless, seemed 
very wonderful to them. They came into a region full 
of dry lake-beds, and Bert, who had a taste for geology, 
explained the cause of the valleys so level at the bottom, 
and pointed out the old-time limits of the water. 

As they rode, the boys planned their week's stay, 
breaking out occasionally into song. As night began 
to fall, it seemed they had been a week on the way. 

At last, just as the sun was setting, they saw a dark 



A Camping Trip I59 

belt of woods ahead of them, and came to a narrow 
river, which the farmers said was the outlet of the 
lake. They pushed on faster, for the roads were better, 
and just at dusk they drove into the little village street 
which led down to the lake, to which their hungry eyes 
went out first of all. 

How glorious it looked, with its waves lapping the 
gravelly beach, and the dark groves of trees standing 
purple-black against the orange sky. They sat and 
gazed at it for several minutes, without saying a word. 
Finally Ranee said, with a sigh, — 

" Oh, wouldn't I like to jump into that water ! " 

"Well, this won't do. We must get a camp," said 
Milton ; and they pulled the team into a road leading 
along the east shore of the lake. 

" Where can a fellow camp ? " Bert called to a young 
man who met them, with a pair of oars on his back. 

" Anywhere down in the woods." He pointed to the 
south. 

They soon reached a densely wooded shore where no 
one stood guard, and drove along an old wood road 
to a superb camping-place near the lake shore, under 
a fine oak grove. 

" Whoa ! " yelled Milton. 

The boys leaped out. Milton and Lincoln took care 
of the horses. Bert seized an axe and chopped on one 
side of two saplings, bent them together and tied them, 
cleared away the brush around them, and with Ranee's 
help drew the tent cloth over them, and there was the 
camp. While they dug up the bedding and put it 



26o Boy Life on the Prairie 

in place, Ranee built a fire and set some cofFee boil- 
ing. 

When thev sat down to eat their bread and coftee 
and cold chicken, the grove was dark ; the smoke rose 
up, lit by the fire, and then was lost in the dark, cool 
shadows of the oak above. Below them they could 
hear the lap of the waves on the boulders. A breeze 
was rising. It was all so fine, so enjoyable, that it 
seemed a dream from which they were in danger of 
waking. After eating they all took hold of the boat 
and eased it down the bank into the water. 

" Now, who's goin' to catch the fish for breakfast ? " 
asked Bert. 

" I will," replied Ranee, who was a " lucky " 
fisherman. "I'll have some fish by sun-up — see if I 
don't." 

Their beds were hay, with abundant quilts and 
blankets spread above, and as Lincoln lay looking out 
of the tent door at the smoke curling up, hearing the 
horses chewing and tramping and an owl hooting, it 
seemed gloriously like the stories he had read, and the 
dreams he had had of being free from care and free 
from toil, far in the wilderness. 

" I wish I could do this all the time," he said to iMil- 
ton, who was looking at the fire, his chin resting in his 
palms. 

" I can tell better after a week of it," said Milton, 
with rare wisdom. 

To a boy like Lincoln or Rancc, that evening was 
worth the whole journev, that strange, delicious hour in 



A Camping Trip 261 

the deepening darkness, when everything seemed of 
some sweet, remembered far-off world and time — they 
were living as their savage ancestry lived, they were 
gettino; close to nature's self. 

The pensiveness did not prevent Milton from hitting 
Bert a tremendous slap with a boot-leg, saying, — 

" Hello ! that mosquito pretty near had you that 
time." And Bert, who knew Milton's pranks, turned 
upon him, and they had a rough and tumble tussle, till 
Ranee cried out : — 

" Look out there ! You'll be tippin' over my butter ! " 

But at last the rustle of the leaves over their heads 
died out in dreams. The boys fell asleep, deliciously 
tired and full of plans for the next day. 

Morning dawned, cool and bright, and Bert was stir- 
ring before sunrise. Ranee was out in the boat with 
Milton before the pink had come upon the lake, while 
Milton was " skirmishing " for some milk. 

How delicious that breakfast ! Newly fried perch, 
new milk with bread and potatoes from home — but the 
freedom, the strange familiarity of it all ! There in the 
dim, sweet woods, with the smoke curling up into 
the leafy masses above, the sunlight just dropping upon 
the lake, the killdee, the robin, and the blue jay crying 
in the still, cool morning air. This was indeed life. 
The hot corn-fields were far away. 

Breakfast eaten to the last scrap of fish, they made a 
rush for the lake and the boat. There it lay, moving 
a little on the light waves, a frail little yellow craft, 
without keel or rudder, but something to float in, any- 



262 Boy Life on the Prairie 

how. And there rippled the lake miles long, cool and 
sparkling. Boats were getting out into the mid-water 
like huge " skimmer-bugs," carrying fishermen to their 
tasks. 

While the other boys fished for perch and bass for 
dinner, Lincoln studied the lake and shore. The beach 
where they had their boat-landing was made up of fine 
varicolored boulders, many of them round as cannon- 
balls, and Lincoln thought of the thousands of years 
they had been rolling and grinding there, rounding each 
other and polishing each other till they glistened like 
garnets and rubies. And then the sand ! 

He waded out into the clear yellow waters and ex- 
amined the bottom, which was yellow sand set in tiny 
waves beautifully regular, the miniature reflexes of the 
water in motion. It made him think of the little wind 
waves in the snow, which he had often wondered at in 
winter. 

Growing tired of this, he went to the bank, and lying 
down on the grass gave himself up to the rest and free- 
dom and beauty of the day. He no longer felt like 
" making the most of it." It seemed as if he were 
always to live like this. 

The others came in, after awhile, with some bass and 
perch. The perch were beautifully marked in pearl and 
gray, to correspond with the sand bottom, though the 
boys didn't know that. There were no large fish so 
near shore, and they lacked the courage to go far out, 
for the whitecaps glittered now and then in mid-water. 

They ate every " smidgin' " of the fish at dinner, and 



A Camping Trip 263 

things looked desperate. They went out into the deep 
water, all feeling a little timorous, as the little boat be- 
gan to rock on the waves. 

Lincoln was fascinated with the water. It was so clear 
that he could see fish swimming far below. The boat 
seemed floating in the air. At times they passed above 
strange and beautiful forests of weeds and grasses, deep 
down there. These scared him, for he remembered the 
story of a man who had been caught and drowned by 
just such clinging weeds, and besides, what monsters 
these mysterious places might conceal ! 

Other boats came round them. Sail-boats passed, 
and the little steamer, the pride of the lake, passed over 
to " the island." Yachts that seemed to the boys im- 
mense, went by, loaded with merrymakers. Every- 
thing was as strange, as exciting, as if they were in a 
new world. 

Ranee was much taken by the sail-boats, and when 
they went home to dinner he declared, — 

" I'm going to rig a sail on our boat, or die tryin'." 

He spent the whole ' afternoon at work while the 
other boys played ball and shot at a target. By night 
he was ready for a sail, though the others were sceptical 
of results. 

That second night the mosquitoes bit and a loud 
thunder-storm passed over. As they heard the roar of 
the falling rain on the tent, and the wet spatter in their 
faces, and heard the water drip-drop on their bread-box, 
Milton and Lincoln wished themselves at home. 

But it grew cooler, and the mosquitoes left, and they 



264 Bov Life on the Prairie 

all slept like bear cubs, and woke fresh as larks in the 
morning. It was a little discouraging at first. Every- 
thing was wet, the bread was inclined to be mouldy and 
tasted of the box, but the fish were fresh and sweet — 
the birds were singing and the sky was bright and cool, 
with a fresh western wind blowing. 

Ranee was eager to sail, and as soon as he had put 
away the breakfast, he shouldered his mast. 

" Come on, bovs, now for the boat." 

^' I guess not," said Milton. 

The boat was soon rigged with a little triangular sail, 
with an oar to steer by, lashed in with wires. Lincoln, 
finally, had courage to get in, and with beating heart 
Ranee pushed off. 

The sail caught the wind, and the boat began to move. 

" Hurrah ! Whoop ! " Ranee threw water on the 
sail ; where he learned that was a mystery. The effect 
was felt at once. The cloth swelled, became impervi- 
ous to the wind, and the boat swept steadilv forward. 

Lincoln was cautious. " That is all right. The 
question is, can we get back ? " 

"You wait an' see me tack." 

" All right. Tack or nail, only le's see you get back 
where we started from." Lincoln was sceptical of sail- 
boats. He had heard about sailing " just where you 
wanted to go," but he had his doubts about it. 

But the boat obeyed the rudder nicely, and came 
around slowly and started in smoothly and steadilv. 
After this successful trip the boys did little else but sail, 
making longer voyages thereafter. 



A Camping Trip 265 

" I'm going up to town with it after dinner," Ranee 
announced. But when he came out, after dinner, the 
sky was overcast and the breeze rising, blowing from 
the southwest, and Milton refused to experiment. 

"I'd sooner walk than ride in your boat," he explained. 

"All right; you pays your money — you takes your 
choice." 

The boat drove out into the lake steadily and swiftly, 
making the water ripple at the stern delightfully ; but 
when they got past a low-lying island where the waves 
ran free, the boat began to heave and slide wildly, and 
Lincoln grew a little pale and set in the face, which 
made Ranee smile. 

" This is something like it. I'm going to go out about 
half a mile, then strike straight for the town." 

It was not long before he found the boat was getting 
unmanageable. The long oar crowded him nearly off the 
seat, as he tried to hold her straight out into mid-water. 
She was flat-bottomed, and as she got into the region of 
whitecaps, she began to be blown bodily with the wind. 

Lincoln was excited, but not scared ; he realized now 
that they were in great danger. Ranee continued to 
smile, but it was evident that he, too, was thinking new 
thoughts. He held the sail with his right hand, easing 
it off and holding it tight, by looping the rope on a peg 
set in the gunwale. But it was impossible for Lincoln 
to help him. All depended upon him alone. 

" Turn ! — turn it ! " shouted Lincoln. " Don't you 
see we can't get back ? " 

" I'm afraid of breakin' my rudder." 



266 Boy Life on the Prairie 

There lay the danger. The oar was merely lashed 
into a notch in the stern, with wire. The leverage was 
very great, but Ranee' brought the boat about and headed 
her for the town, nearly three miles away. 

They both thrilled with a sort of pleasure to feel the 
boat leap under them as she caught the full force of the 
wind in her sail. If thev could hold her in that line, 
they were all right. She careened once till she dipped 
water. 

" Get on the edge ! " commanded Ranee, easing the 
sail off, Lincoln climbed upon the edge of the little 
pine shell, scarcely eighteen inches high, and the boat 
steadied. 

Both looked relieved. 

The water was getting a lead color, streaked with 
foam, and the hissing of the whitecaps had a curiously 
snaky sound, as they spit water into the boat. The 
rocking had opened a seam in the bottom, and Lin- 
coln was forced to bail furiously. 

Ranee, though a boy of unusual strength, clear-headed 
and resolute in time of danger, began to feel that he was 
master only for a time. 

" I don't suppose this is much of a blow," he yelled, 
" but I don't see anv of the other boats out." 

Lincoln glanced round him •, all the boats, even the 
two-masters, were in or putting in. Lightning began 
to run down the clouds in the west in zigzag streams. 
The boat, from time to time, was swept sidewise out 
of its course, but Ranee dared not ease the sail, for fear 
he could not steer her, and, besides, he was afraid of the 



A Camping Trip 267 

rapidly approaching squall. If she turned sideways 
toward the wind, she would fill instantly. 

He sat there, with the handle of the oar at his right 
hip, the rope in his hand, with one loop round the peg. 
Each time as the gust struck them, he was lifted from 
his seat by the crowding of the oar and the haul of the 
rope. His muscles swelled tense and rigid — the sweat 
poured from his face, but he laughed when Lincoln, with 
reckless drollery, began to shout a few nautical words. 

" LufF, you lubber — why don't you luff"? " 

" Suppose you come help ! " 

"I guess not! I'm only passenger. Hard-a-port, 
there, you'll have us playin' on the sand, yet. That's 
right. All we got to do is to hard-a-port when the 
wind blows." 

The farther they went, the higher the waves rolled, 
till the boat creaked and gaped under its strain, and the 
water began to come in fast, 

" Shut up, there. Link. Bail 'er out ! " the pilot 
cried. The thunder broke over their heads, and far 
away to the left they could see the rain on the lake, 
and the water white with foam, but they were nearing 
the beach at the foot of the street. A crowd was 
watching them with motionless intensity. 

Soon they were in the midst of a fleet of anchored 
boats — the rain began to fall. The blast struck the 
sail, tearing it loose, and filling the boat with water, but 
Ranee held to his rudder, and darting among the boats a 
moment later, the little craft ran half her length upon 
the sand. 



268 Boy Life on the Prairie 

As Ranee leaped ashore, he staggered with weakness. 
Both took shelter in a near-by boat-house. The boat- 
keeper swore at them : — 

" Don't vou know any more'n to go out in such a 
ticb as that on a day like this ? I expected every minute 
to see you go over." 

"We didn't," said Ranee. "I guess we made pretty 
good time." 

"Time! you'd better say time! If you'd been five 
minutes later, you'd had ti??ie enough." 

It was a foolhardy thing, — Ranee could see it now, as 
he looked out on the mad water, and at the little flat, 
awkward boat on the sand. 

An hour later, as they walked up the wood, they met 
the boys half-way on the road, badly scared. 

" By golly ! We thought you were goners," said 
Milton. "Why, we couldn't see the boat, after you 
got out a little ways. Looked like you were both sittin' 
in the water." 

Thev found the camp badly demoralized. The other 
boys had been too worried to put things snug before the 
squall, and their blankets were wet, and the tent blown 
out of plumb. But they set to work clearing things up. 
The rain passed away and the sun came out again, and 
when they sat down to their supper, the storm was far 
away. 

It was glorious business to these prairie boys. Re- 
leased from work in the hot corn-fields, they were in 
camp on the lovely lake, with nothing to do but swim 
or doze when they pleased. They had the delicious 



A Camping Trip 269 

feeling of being travellers in a strange country, — 
explorers of desert wilds, hunters and fishers in the 
wildernesses of the mysterious West. 

To Lincoln it was so fine it almost made him sad. 
When he should have enjoyed every moment he was 
saying to himself, " Day after to-morrow we must 
start for home," — and the happy days passed so swiftly. 

They went down and brought the boat home, and as 
the weather continued fine, they were able to sail about 
near the camp with comfort, and trail a line, and watch 
the fish swimming deep down in the clear, crystal water. 
Occasionally Milton said : — 

" By golly ! I wish I had one o' mother's biscuits 
this morning," or some such remark. Some one usually 
shied a potato at him and shut him up. Such remarks 
were heretical. 

They explored the woods south of the lake, a wild 
jungle, which it was easy to imagine quite unexplored. 
Some years before a set of horse thieves had lived there, 
and their grass-grown paths were of thrilHng interest to 
the boys. They never quite dared to follow them to the 
house where the shooting of the leader had taken place. 

Altogether it was a wonderful week, and when they 
loaded up their boat and piled their plunder in behind, it 
was with sad hearts, although it must be said the ques- 
tion of "grub" was giving Bert a good deal of trouble. 
At meal-time they thought of home — with their stom- 
achs fairly filled they were pleased with the wilderness. 

The journey homeward occupied parts of two days. 
They made camp by the roadside, and the next day 



270 Boy Life on the Prairie 

being Saturday they were delayed by a game of base- 
ball in Taylor City. It was late Saturday night when 
they drew up in Mr. Jennings's yard, and to show that 
they were thoroughly hardened campers they slept in 
the wagon another night — at least three of them did. 
Milton shamelessly sneaked away to his bed, and they 
did not miss him until morning. 

They upbraided him in severe terms, but he only 
laughed. When Mr. Jennings invited them all to 
breakfast, nobody refused. 

" Land o' Goshen," said Mrs. Jennings, " you eat as 
if you were starved. What did you live on ? " 

" Fish," replied Bert. 

"Sour bread," said treacherous Milton. 

" Well, no wonder you look gaunt as weasels." 

" Oh, but it was fun, wasn't it, boys ? " cried Lincoln. 

" You bet it was. Let's go again next year." 

" All right," said Milton ; " raise your weapons and 
swear to be true to the ' poet.' " 

They all lifted their knives in solemn consent, while 
Mrs. Jennings laughed till the tears came to her eyes. 

But they never did. Of such stuff are the plans of 
youth. 



COLOR IN THE WHEAT 

Like liquid gold the wheat-field lies, 

A marvel of yellow and green, 
That ripples and runs, that floats and flies, 

With the subtle shadows, the change, the sheen 
That plays in the golden hair of a girl. 
A cloud flies there — 
A ripple of amber — a flare 
Of light follows after. A swirl 
In the hollows like the twinkling feet 

Of a fairy waltzer ; the colors run 

To the westward sun. 
Through the deeps of the ripening wheat. 

I hear the reapers' far-off hum. 

So faint and far it seems the drone 
Of bee or beetle, seems to come 
From far-off, fragrant, fruity zone, 
A land of plenty, where 
Toward the sun, as hasting there. 
The colors run 
Before the wind's feet 
In the wheat. 

271 



272 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The wild hawk swoops 

To his prey in the deeps ; 
The sunflower droops 

To the lazy wave ; the wind sleeps ; 
Then, moving in dazzling links and loops, 

A marvel of shadow and shine, 
A glory of olive and amber and wine, 

Runs the color in the wheat. 




* ->^^' 



n fiis^' - 






CHAPTER XIX 



A DAY IN THE OLD-TIME HARVEST 
FIELD 



Who shall describe the glory of growing wheat ? 
Deep as the breast of a man, wide as a sea, heavy- 
headed, supple-stalked, many-voiced, full of multitudi- 
nous, secretive, whispered colloquies, — a wilderness of 
wealth, a meeting-place of winds and of magic. Who 
shall sing the song of it, its gold and its grace ? 

See it when the storm-wind lays hard upon it ! See 
it when the shadows drift over it ! Go out into it at 
night when all is still — so still you seem to hear the 
passing of the transforming elixir as it creeps upward 
into the tiny globes of green, and you must cry, " Oh, 
the music and magic of growing wheat ! " 

Stand before it at eve when the setting sun floods 
the world with crimson, and the bearded heads lazily 
swirl under the slow, warm wind, and the mousing 
hawk dips into the green deeps like the sea-gull into 
the ocean, and your eyes will ache with the light and 
the color of it. 

T 273 



274 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The boy on the old-time wheat farm generally began 
his apprenticeship by carrying luncheon and fresh water 
to the men, or by riding the lead horse for the man 
who drove the reaper. This he enjoyed for an hour 
or two the first day. Thereafter it became wearisome 
and a burden of care. The sun beat down upon his 
shoulders, the salt sweat of the horse made his chafed 
legs smart, and the monotonous creak-creak of the 
harness became an intolerable nuisance. He was glad 
when his father set him to carrying bundles for the 
" shocker." 

But this soon became worse than riding the lead 
horse, and the boy, seeing his younger brother riding 
along in the cool wind, with gloomy face, felt a keen 
pang of sorrow to think he had outgrown that with- 
out being able to "bind on a station." 

Sometimes as the boy stopped to rest his worn and 
swollen hands and looked at the wilderness of sheaves 
already bound and scattered over the field, and con- 
sidered the thousands which the sturdy arms of the 
men were constantly adding to those other myriads, 
his heart grew sick with despair. What to him were 
sailing hawk, piping chicken, and whistling bob-white ? 
No sooner did he bring twelve bundles together than 
he was forced to move on to twelve other bundles, 
equally heavy and equally filled with briers ; and there 
beyond waved a vast field not yet yielded to the reaper. 

All these gloomy transitions had been the lot of 
Lincoln Stewart, and when he was set to " bind up the 
corners," out of the way of the horses, he felt a glow 



The Old-time Harvest Field 275 

of exultation ; he was nearing the time when he, too, 
should be considered a man and take his " station," 
He was very deft and powerful, and in the harvest of 
his fifteenth year, Mr. Stewart said : — 

"Well, Lincoln, you've been aching to take your 
station for some years. Now you can show your 
mettle. I'll put you into the field this year as a full 
hand." 

This was pretty nearly equivalent to being knighted, 
and the boy replied : — 

" All right. I'm ready for it." 

The coming on of harvest was always of great in- 
terest to the Western farmer boy. There was a cer- 
tain excitement as of battle in it. It was the event 
waited for — the end and reward of all the ploughing 
and sowing of the year. There was a certain anxious 
solicitude in the eyes of the older men, as they watched 
the sky from day to day. Every cloud rising in the 
west was a menace, each thunder roll in the night a 
disquieting threat. 

But day by day Lincoln watched with unusual interest 
the hot sun transforming the rain and soil into gold. 
His day of trial was coming swiftly. He went out into 
the wheat often, lying prone in its deeps, hearing the wind 
singing its whispered mystic song over his head. He 
watched the stalks as they turned yellow at the root and 
at the neck, though the middle height remained green 
and sappy, and the heads had a blue-green sheen. The 
leaves, no longer needed, were beginning to die at the 
bottom, and the stalk to stiffen as it bore the daily in- 



276 Boy Life on the Prairie 

creasing weight of the milky berries. As he looked 
along the edge of the field, Lincoln felt the beauty of 
the broad ribbon of green and yellow, as it languidly 
waved in and out with every rush of the wind. 

At last Mr. Stewart began to get out the reapers and 
put them in order. Provisions were bought in generous 
measure. The wheels and cogs were all cleaned and 
oiled, the hands assembled, and early on a hot morning 
in July, the boss mounted his self-rake reaper and drove 
into the field. Owen rode the lead horse, and Lincoln 
and four stalwart " hands " followed the machine to 
bind the grain. It was "work from the word go! " 

Wheat harvest always came in the hottest and driest 
part of the summer, and was considered the hardest 
work of the year. It demanded early rising for both 
man and wife. It meant broiling all day over the hot 
stove in the kitchen for the women, and for the men it 
brought toil from dawn to sunset, each man working 
with bent back beneath the vivid sunlight. Some davs 
the thermometer stood at a round hundred in the shade, 
but immense fields of wheat ripening at the same mo- 
ment and threatening; to "go back into the ground" 

too D 

made rest impossible. 

There are no tasks on the farm which surpass the 
severity of binding on a station, as Lincoln well knew, 
but he was ready for the trial. Three of the hands 
were strange nomadic fellows, which the West had not 
yet learned to call tramps. One was called " Long 
John," a tall, lathy, freckle-faced man of twenty-five 
or thirty, while his " partner " was a small, dark, score- 



The Old-time Harvest Field 277 

tive middle-aged fellow whom Lincoln disliked. John 
called him " Little Bill." The fourth was a cousin 
named Luke Mc Turg. The fifth was Ben Hutchison, 
who had developed into a long-armed, stalwart youth. 

The field had been trimmed by means of the old- 
fashioned cradle, and the boss swung into the field at 
the corner, without hitch. Giving a final touch of oil 

^^^\ I . ,n^^.,h\L 






to the sickle, he mounted the seat of the self-rake 
McCormick, and said : — 

"Now, boys, it's going to be hot, and this being the 
first day, we'll take it tolerably slow and easy. I'd 
hate to have any of you ' peter out.' " 

Long John sneered a little : " Oh, you needn't worry 
about us. If the boy goes through, I think we will." 

Lincoln spoke up, " You follow the boy, and you'll 
earn your wages, and don't you forget it." 

Mr. Stewart smiled. "When I was sixteen I could 
rake and bind with any man I ever saw. I guess Lin- 
coln'll look after himself." 

Under these conditions the work began. Long John 
"took in" immediatelv after the machine. Bill went 
on and set in at the second fifth, and Luke at the third, 



278 Boy Life on the Prairie 

while Ben and Lincoln walked back the other way to 
meet the machine. 

"That ' jacknape ' thinks he is going to bind us off 
our legs," said Lincoln. 

Ben put out his tongue. " Well, if he does, he'll 
earn his board. I'd break my back rather than get 
caught to-day." 

As Lincoln stood at his station, looking across the 
level sweep of grain, he could see the flashing reels 
whirl, and see the heads of the two strangers bobbing 
up and down, as if they were binding in a race. The 
wind was light, and the sun was growing warmer each 
moment. The boy was dressed in brown ducking trou- 
sers, a plain hickory shirt, and stout shoes, while a wide 
straw hat shaded his face. His brown hands were bare. 

As the purring sickle passed him, and the angry rake 
delivered his first bundle to him with a jerk, Lincoln's 
heart leaped. Right there he became a man. Running 
to the gavel, he scuffled it together with his feet, while 
he jerked a handful of the wheat from the sheaf with his 
left hand. A swift whirl of the band, a stooping clutch, 
and he rose with the bundle on his knee. A sudden 
pull, a twist, a twirl over his thumb, and the first bound 
sheaf dropped into the stubble. He scarcely halted in 
the work, for his deft action was like that of some cun- 
ning machinery. Swiftly the gavels turned to sheaves 
behind him, and before the reaper had turned the second 
corner his station was half finished. He did not allow 
himself to exult too much, for he knew the real struggle 
was yet to come. Behind him Ben came, stooping low. 



The Old-time Harvest Field 279 

Lincoln's heart was full of pride to feel he was part 
of the crew. As the morning wore on, the sun grew 
hotter, and a great void developed in Lincoln's chest. 
His breakfast had been ample, but no mere stomachful 
of food could carry a growing boy through such toil. 
Along about a quarter to ten he began to scan the field 
with anxious eye, to see if little Mary were not coming 
with the luncheon. He had less time to rest at the 
end of his station, and his arms began to ache with 
fatigue. 

Just when it seemed as if he could stand no more, 
Mary came with a jug of cool milk, and some cheese 
and fried-cakes. Setting a couple of tall sheaves together 
like a tent, Lincoln flung himself down flat on his back 
in their shadow and devoured his lunch, while his aching 
muscles relaxed and his tired eyes closed. Weary as 
he was, his dim eyes apprehended something of the glory 
of the waving wheat and sailing clouds, and the boy's 
heart in him regretted at the moment the privileges of 
the man. He would gladly have lain there listening to 
the faint wailing of the wind, and seeing the great silent 
clouds sail by. 

The delicious zephyrs kissed his face with lips as 
cool as the lofty clouds which rolled like storms of 
snow in the deep blue space of sky. 

Lying silent as a clod, he could hear the cheep of the 
crickets, the buzzing wings of flies and grasshoppers, 
and the faint, fairy-like tread of unseen insects just 
under his ear in the stubble. Strange green worms, 
and staring flies, and shining beetles crept over him as 



2 8o Boy Life on the Prairie 

he listened, in dreamful doze, to the far-off, approach- 
ing purr of the sickle, flicked by the faint snap of the 
driver's whip, while out of the low rustle of the ever 
stirring wind amid the wheat came the wailing cry of a 
lost little wild chicken, a falling, thrilling, piteous little 
sob. This momentary communion with nature seemed 
all the sweeter for the terrible toil which had preceded 
it, and was to follow it. It took resolution to rise and 
fall in behind the sickle. 

But the dinner signal came at last in the shape of a 
cloth hung from the chamber window, or a tin horn blown 
by the stalwart hired girl, or through Gran'papa Stewart, 
who had long ago given up his place in the fields, and 
whose white hair, shining afar, was signal for release. 

As they left their stations, Ben and Lincoln walked 
to the house together. " Well, the boys didn't get 
caught, after all." 

" No," replied Ben. " I came mighty near it once. 
I run a stubble under my nail, and had to get it out." 

" The tug of war will come about four o'clock to- 
day," answered Lincoln. " But I reckon I'm good for 
it." 

No one can know how beautiful water is, till they 
have toiled thus in the harvest held, and have come at 
last to the spring or well, to lave a burning face, and 
worn, aching arms. Lincoln soused head and all into 
the huge bucket again and again, dashing the cold water 
upon his bared arms with a shout of pleasure. He 
could not get enough of it. 

And so, with their hair " smooched " back, all wet 



The Old-time Harvest Field 



281 



with perspiration as they were, the hands surrounded 
the table, and fell upon the boiled beef and potatoes with 
unexampled ferocity, while the wind through the open 
door brought the smell of corn in bloom, and the sound 
of bees at the hives. The table, covered with homely 
ware, had a sort of rude plenty, — raspberries, bread, 
coffee, with pie for dessert. There was no ceremony, 
and very little talking, till the wolf was somewhat satis- 
fied. Then came a delicious hour of lying on the thick, 
cool grass, under the shade of the trees, a doze sensuous 
and dreamful as the siesta of a tropical monarch, cut 
short all too soon by the implaca- 
ble voice of the boss, — 

" Roll out, boys, and stock y'l 

jugs-" 

Again the big white 
jugs were filled at the well 
or spring. The horses, 
"lazy" with food, led 
the way back to the 
field, and work be- 
gan again. All na- 
ture seemed to invite 
to sleep, rather than 
to work, and the boys longed, with a wordless longing, 
tor the woods and the river. The gentle wind hardly 
moved the bended heads of grain ; hawks hung in the 
air like trout sleeping in deep pools ; the sunlight seemed 
a golden silence, — and yet men must strain their tired 
muscles and bend their aching backs to the harvest. 




282 Boy Life on the Prairie 

At the starting-point, just to let the bovs know that 
he was " all right," " Long John " put both heels behind 
his neck and walked about on his hands. 

" Why, it's plav," he said, " standing up against you 
boys." 

Lincoln was nettled, and as Mr. Stewart passed him 
the next time, he said : — 

" You never mind me, father. Take the conceit out 
of that chap, or we can't live with him." 

It was foolish, but Duncan had a pride in his bov, 
and swung the long whip above his team, settling the 
sickle full length into the heavy grain. 

For a couple of hours Lincoln found time to rest 
after each station, and each time he felt his strength 
ebbing. His lingers were wearing to the quick from 
raking the stubble, and his thumb was lame from tucking 
the band. He no longer bound as he walked, for he 
had not the strength to draw the band without pressing 
the sheaf against the ground. Twice he got his last 
bundle out of the way just in time to avoid the disgrace 
of being "doubled." The sweat streamed into his eyes, 
blinding him, and a throbbing pain filled his temples, 
yet he toiled on with set teeth, determined not to be 
beaten. At every opportunity he dropped flat on his 
back, like a prize-fighter at the end of his round, with 
every muscle limp as a rag. 

" How're you standing it, Lincoln ? " his father asked 
anxiously. 

" Oh, I'm all right. You catch and double that fellow. 
Don't worry about me. How's Ben ? " 



The Old-time Harvest Field 283 

" He's about ' bushed,' but I guess he'll hold out till 
supper." 

" All right, we'll make that Jack-knife think he's in 
the harvest field." 

The whip cracked and the flying sickle swept through 
the grain like a steel-blue ribbon. The clang of the 
rake was like the advancing footfalls of an angry giant. 
Ben bent almost double, his tongue licking his parched 
lips, came after Lincoln, holding his own by reason of 
his long arms and his low stature. Bill, hard as iron, 
silent and grave, worked away methodically, just keeping 
out of the reapers' way, and no more. Luke was always 
waiting when the driver came to him, and on his face 
was little sign of effort. Long John still sneered and 
asked : " Is that the best you can do ? How's the boy ? 
Had to give him a rest this round, didn't you ? " 

As he passed his son the next time, Duncan said, 
" Look out for yourself, Lincoln. I'm going to double 
that bean-pole or heat a pinion." 

The hour that followed tested the boy to his inner- 
most fibre. The speed of the machine was almost 
doubled, and when he snatched his last sheaf from be- 
fore the lead horse's feet, Owen piped out with glee, — 

" We caught Little Bill and Ben this round, and 
Long John, pretty near." 

Catching a handful of green weeds from the stubble, 
Lincoln dashed some water on them, crowded them in 
the crown of his hat, and set in after the machine, dog- 
gedlv, blindly. There was no beauty now in the sky 
or grain. He saw only the interminable rows of sheaves, 



284 Boy Life on the Prairie 

felt only the harsh stubble, heard only the sound of the 
sickle. He calculated every movement. While his 
left hand was selecting the band, his feet rolled the 
gavel together, and putting the band beneath was but 
a single motion. He allowed no stop, no hurry. He 
reduced himself to the precision and synchronism of a 
piece of machinery — all in vain ; on the third round he 
had four gavels unbound. He was " doubled " at last. 
As he realized this, he straightened his aching back and 
looked at his father. 

"Did you get him ? " 

" Not quite, but I will this time," he replied, cracking 
his whip. " Get out o' there, Dan." 

Lincoln took up the next station with the feeling of 
havinp; been beaten. His heart was gone and he was 
faint with hunger, but he worked on. 

He heard Owen whoop, and his father laugh. Had 
they doubled the long man ? He looked back toward 
the house and saw the supper signal fluttering from the 
window. It came just in time to save him from defeat. 

As he came back slowly toward the oil-can corner, he 
joined Ben. 

" Well, he got all of us but Luke and that long- 
legged kangaroo." 

" Looks that way. He'll crow over us all the rest of 
the harvest, I suppose." 

But he didn't. On the contrary, he looked rather 
crestfallen, and before they could put in a word, 
Mr. Stewart said : — 

" I guess I don't want you round. He's been cheat- 



THE COOL GRAY JUG 

COOL gray jug that touched the lips 
In kiss that softly closed and clung, 
No Spanish wine the tippler sips 

Or port the poet's praise has sung, 
Such pure untainted sweetness yields 
As cool gray jug in harvest fields. 

1 see it now ! A clover leaf 
Outspread upon its sweating side. 
As from the standing sheaf 

I pluck and swing it high, the wide 
Field glows with noonday heat — 
The winds are tangled in the wheat. 

In myriads the crickets blithely cheep. 
Across the swash of waving grain 
I see the burnished reaper creep — 
The lunch-boy comes ! and once again 
The jug its crystal coolness yields — 
O cool gray jug in harvest fields! 
285 



2 86 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ing for the last four rounds. See here." He led them 
all to the end of Long John's last station, and walking 
along, pulled the bands ofF the sheaves. They had not 
been tied at all. 

" Now, what I don't understand," said the boss, " is 
this. How did you expect to do that without being 
found out ? " 

Long John sullenly replied, "Well, I made up my 
mind at noon I didn't want to work for a man who drives 
his hands as you do." 

" But it was your own fault," said Lincoln. "Your 
bragging started the whole thing." 

" Well, let's go to supper," said Ben. " I'm empty 
as a tin boiler." 

Again a dash of cool water at the well, and then, 
weary and sore, the boys sat down to hot tea, salt pork, 
and berries, while the horses rested in the shed. It was 
a hasty meal, and in less than an hour they were all 
back in the field. 

But the pace was leisurely then. There was a won- 
drous charm in this part of the day, when the shadows 
began to lengthen across the stubble, and the fiery sun, 
half veiled in thin gray clouds in the west, abated his 
fierceness, and the air began to grow cool and moist. 

A few rounds, and then long-drawn and musical arose 
the driver's cry : — 

"Turn out! All hands — turn out!'' and slowly, 
with low-swinging heads, the horses moved toward the 
barn, followed by the men, who walked with lagging 
steps. 



The Old-time Harvest Field 



287 



Lincoln and Ben walked side by side with swollen 
hands and aching arms, too tired to exult over their 
victory. Around them the katydids and treetoads 
were singing, and down the lane Mary and Gran'pap 
were bringing the sober-gaited cows. 

"To-morrow — that's where we catch goudy," said 
Ben. 

"Oh, I don't know; it may rain," replied Lincoln. 
" Anyhow, we've got a good long night to rest in." 

That night Mr. Stewart called Little Bill and Long 
John one side and handed them some bills. " Here's 
your ' walking papers,' " he said grimly. " I don't want 
a hand round me that I can't trust. I don't like your 
style. Good day." 




irti^ C 






,ip>^^** -*-rjtit 






■^.^^ 




' - 'r-'":-^'- 'f'-^-^TT 



II 



The next year Mr. 
Stewart bought a " har- 
vester," which was a reaper on which two men stood to 
bind the grain, which was carried o\'er the bull-wheel 
by a sort of endless apron and dropped upon a table be- 
tween the binders. This was considered a wonderful in- 
vention and a great improvement over the self-rake reaper, 
for two men could bind as much as four on the ground. 

The boys were instantly ambitious to try their hands 
on this new machine. Lincoln was at once gratified. 
He took his place beside the hind man and bound his 
half of all the grain that rolled over the bull-wheel — 
no matter how heavv it was. In some ways the work 
was quite as hard as binding on a station, but the labor 
of walking and gathering the grain was saved, and 
besides, a canopy shut off the sun, while the motion of 
the machine helped to keep a breeze stirring. 

It looked to be a vcrv picturesque way of gathering 
the grain, and those who looked on considered that the 
machine was doing all the work — but it wasn't. To 
bind one-half of ten acres of wheat each day was 
work, incessant and severe. Every motion must count. 
No bands must break or slip, for at that precise moment 
a mountain of grain would be waiting for the band. 

288 



The Old-time Harvest Field 289 

Each man drove the other, and the driver was master 
of both their fates. The motions of good binders were 
regular and graceful, and as certain as those of faultless 
machinery. 

Lincoln, being the lighter, always bound on the front 
table, and his partner had no cause to complain of him. 
The " knack " which always came to help him out, 
served him particularly well on the harvester. He 
could tuck the knot with his right thumb while reach- 
ing for a band with his left hand, and the heap of grain 
was seldom too large for even his short arms. The 
hired man accused him of taking " light loads " each 
time, but to this Mr. Stewart merely said : " You know 
what you can do. Put your band around the straw 
a little quicker," 

Sometimes the hired man tried this while Mr. Stew- 
art laughed at them from his seat in the machine. It 
was of no avail ; no matter how quickly he worked, 
Lincoln's deft fingers were a little nimbler, and he was 
forced to return to his usual pace. Part of the time 
Owen drove, and then the hired man was very quiet, 
for Owen had no scruples about crowding the sickle to 
its full length even when the wheat was full of thistles 
or wild sunflowers. 

It was hard work. The briers got into Lincoln's 
arms and fingers. His shirt-sleeves wore out, and the 
rust from the oats stung like vitriol. His hands chapped, 
and the balls of his fingers became raw, so that when 
he returned to work after dinner or supper he groaned 
every time he drew a band. If the ground were rough, 
u 



290 Boy Life on the Prairie 

he was banged about till his knees were lame — and 
yet in spite of all these trials no one cared to return to 
binding on the ground. Harvesting was enormously 
facilitated by this reaper, but invention was already 
busy on something far more wonderful. 

Already there were rumors that a machine had been 
invented v/hich cut and bound the grain entirely of its 
own motion. This was incredible, a tale out of the 
" Wonder Book," and no one really believed it till 
Captain Knapp brought one home and set it to work 
on his own farm. The whole of Sun Prairie turned out 
to see it — Lincoln and Owen among the rest. It was 
like a harvester save that a heavy mass of machinery 
hung where the binders used to stand, and when these 
intricacies revolved, a long iron arm, which looked like 
the neck of a goose, rose and plunged down through 
the grain, pushing a wire tight around a sheaf, while 
some cunning little twisters and a knife tied and cut 
the wire, and a small foot came up from below and 
kicked the bundle clear. It had the weight of a thresh- 
ing-machine, but it did the work, and thereafter Cap- 
tain Knapp and Ranee could cut, bind, and stack more 
grain than seven men in the old way. Soon every 
farmer had a self-binder. It was improved each year, 
and became less ponderous and cheaper. Then a sort 
of twine was invented which the crickets would not 
eat (they ate everything else, fork handles, vests, jack- 
knives, gloves), and the wire, which had become a great 
nuisance in the field, was laid bv in fa\'or of the string. 

The excitement and bustle of the harvest passed with 



The Old-time Harvest Field 291 

the old-time reaper. On many farms the regular hired 
man and the men of the family were able to take care 
of the grain, and the women hardly knew when reaping 
began or left off. The blinding toil of binding by 
hand was gone, and the work of shocking was greatly 
lightened by the bundle-carrier attachment, which 
dropped the sheaves in windrows. The iron arm did 
better work than even those of David McTurg, and 
never grew tired or careless. 

But with all these gains there was a loss — the in- 
exorable change from old to new forever drops and 
leaves behind pleasant associations of human emotion — 
the poetry of the familiar and the simpler forms of life. 
The self-rake reaper and binding on a station joined the 
" down-power," the tin lantern, the bell-metal cog- 
wheels of the separator, and the tallow candle. The 
new had its poetry, tooi, but it was a little more difficult 
for the old folks to see it — even Lincoln and Ranee 
did not recognize it as poetry, though they enjoyed the 
mystery and excitement of it as they looked across the 
bull-wheel and saw the faithful arm of insensate steel 
doing its glorious work, unwearied and uncomplaining. 

In his home in the city the middle-aged man of 
country birth hears the wind blowing through the 
branches of a sparse elm, and instantly he is back on 
the prairies of Iowa, in the harvest field of twenty years 
ago, or in the hay-field where the larks and bobolinks 
are swaying and whistling. The king-bird chatters from 
the little popple tree by the fence under whose shade the 
toiler lies in momentary rest. 



292 



Boy Lite on the Prairie 



Oh, ineffaceable sunsets ! Oh, mightv sweep of golden 
grain beneath a \astei", more glorious sea of clouds, vour 
light and song and motion are ever with us. We hear 
the shrill, myriad-voiced choir of leaping insects whose 
wings flash fire amid the glorified stubble. The wind 
wanders by and lifts our torn hats. The locusts leap in 
clouds before our heedless feet, the prairie hen's brood 
rises out of the unreaped barley and drops into the shel- 
tering deeps of the tangled oats, green as emerald. The 
lone quail pipes in the hazel thicket, and far up the 
road the cow-bell's steady clang tells of the homecoming 
of the herd. 

Even in such hours of toil, and through the sultry 
skies, the sacred light of beautv broke; worn and grimed 
as we were, we still could fall a-dream before the marvel 
of golden earth and a crimson sky. 











A WESTERN HARVEST 
FIELD 



On every side the golden stubble stretches, 
Looped and laced with spiders' silvery maze. 
From stalk to stalk the noisy insects leaping, 
Add sparks of glittering fire to gold and purple haze. 

Their clicking flight the only sound of living 

In all the solemn plain 
Of flooding, failing light through drooping, dreamy grain. 

The warm sweet light grows every instant richer. 
Ever more sonorous the night-hawk's sudden scream, 
And now there comes the clatter of the sickle. 
And loud and cheery urging of the reaper's tired team. 
Around, unseen, the choir of evening crickets 
Deepens and widens with the sunset's lessening heat. 
And distant calls to supper pulse across the tangled wheat. 

The overarching majesty of purple clouds grows brighter. 
Soaring serene in seas of blue and green, 
A tumbled mountain-land of cloud-crags fired and lighted 
To glowing bronze with red and yellow sheen. 
And through the grain the reaper still goes forward — 
And still the insects leap and night-hawks play. 
While overhead the glory of the sunset turns to gray. 

293 



COMING RAIN ON THE PRAIRIE 

In sounding southern breeze 
The spire-like poplar trees 
Stream like vast plumes 

Against a seamless cloud — a high, 
Dark mass, a dusty dome that looms 

A rushing shadow on the western sky. 

The lightning falls in streams, 
Sprangling in fiery seams. 
Through which the bursting rain 

Trails in clouds of gray ; 
The cattle draw together on the plain, 

And drift like anchored boats upon a wind-swept bay. 



THE HERDSMAN 

A luaste of grasses dry as hair ; 
Stillness ; insects' buzz ; and glare 
Of white-hot sunshine everyiuhere ! 

The Herdsman like a statue sits 
Upon his panting horse, while far below 

The herd moves soundlessly as a shadow flits. 
The weak wind mumbles some mysterious word. 
294 



The Herdsman 295 

The word grows louder, and a thrill 
Of action runs along the hot twin bands 

Of steel. A low roar quivers in the ear, and still 
No motion else in all the spotted sands. 

The roar grows brazen, and a yell 
Bursts from an unseen iron throat ; 

The Herdsman's eyes rest on a distant swell, 
Whence seems to pulse the savage welcome note. 

Sudden it comes, a crawling, thunderous thing ! 
A monstrous serpent hot with haste, 

The cannon-ball express with rushing swing 
Circles the butte and roars across the waste. 

The embodied might of these our iron days. 
The glittering moving city, rushes toward the east, 

Bringing for a single instant face to face 
Barbaric loneliness and a flying feast. 

A roguish maiden from an open window throws 
(Or drops) her handkerchief among the cacti spears, 

The Herdsman plucks and wears it like a rose 
Upon his breast, and laughs to hide his grateful tears. 

Again the luaste of grasses crisp as hair; 
Stillness ; crickets' chirp ; and glare 
Of boundless sunshine everywhere ! 







CHAPTER XX 



THE BATTLE OF THE BULLS 



During the first three years of Lincohi's life on Sun 
Prairie, the cattle remained " free commoners," ranging 
at will on the unfcnced land, but all this suddenly 
changed. The stockman was required to take care of 
his cattle, and fencing became optional with the owner 
of crops. This reversal of liability was due to an enact- 
ment called " The Herd Law," and was a great relief to 
farmers, to whom fencing was a very considerable burden. 

As to the rights or wrongs of this change, the boys 
of Sun Prairie had no opinion, and the cause was only 
vaguely understood, but the change in their own lives 
was momentous. Up to this time their watch over the 
cattle had been easy and lax, now it became necessary to 

2ijb 



The Battle of the Bulls 297 

know where the herd was every hour of the day and 
night. The herder must stay with his charges until 
relieved, like a sentinel. This led to an arrangement 
between the Stewarts, Knapps, and Jenningses by which 
the cattle were held in one drove, and the boys took turn 
and turn about in watching them. 

Meanwhile a still greater change was taking place. 
As the settlers poured into the county in hundreds, the 
wild lands yielded to the breaking-plough, and the range 
disappeared with incredible swiftness, until at last only two 
great feeding-grounds existed. One to the west, a wet, 
cold tract covered with fine grass interspersed with 
patches of willow, the other the burr-oak opening on the 
Wapseypinnicon. To these ranges the cows had to be 
driven each morning, and brought home each night. 
This led to the next important step. A part of the 
home farm was " seeded down " to timothy grass, and 
the cows separated from the general herd, which could 
thus be driven farther away and held during the entire 
season. 

So at last Milton and Owen or Lincoln and Ranee 
kept watch every day over the combined flocks of the 
neighborhood, while the other boys worked at corn- 
planting or haying or harvest. As it happened, the 
farmers for a year or two kept up their fences, and the 
boys, after seeing the herd quieted for the night, were 
able to return home to sleep ; but at last the range grew 
too small and the fences too poor (new-comers made 
none at all) to allow this, and then came the final 
change of all. One day. Captain Knapp called to ar- 



298 Boy Life on the Prairie 

range with Mr. Stewart about having the young cattle 
and the steers driven over into the next county, in 
search of wider range. 

When the decision and date of the moving were an- 
nounced, the boys were deeply excited. Whoever herded 
the cattle now would be a herder indeed. He must not 
expect to return to his mother at night. He must sleep 
in a tent and follow his cattle. In imagination Lincoln 
saw files of Indians moving over smooth ranges, out- 
lined against the sky, or heard the thunderous trample 
of migrating buffaloes. On the night before they were 
to start, the boys were all too excited to sleep. Everv 
lad in Sun Prairie wanted to go, and most of them 
did go, to spy out the land. 

Lincoln, Ranee, and Milton rounded up the herd and 
kept it moving, while Mr. Stewart and Mr. Knapp and 
several of the smaller boys followed in a wagon, in 
which were tent and bedding for the herders. Mr. 
Stewart had said : " You don't want a tent. We will 
get a place for you at some settler's shanty." But the 
boys insisted, and so a little " dog tent " was purchased 
by Lincoln and Ranee, to be their very own, and they 
were happy. 

For a couple of hours the ground was familiar, but at 
last they came to the Cedar River, beyond which all 
was unknown. They were deeply disappointed to find 
houses there, but toward noon they came to a long, low 
swell of wild land, reaching far to right and to left. It 
seemed to be the beginning of the wild country. It 
was a wet and swampy country ; for that reason it was 



The Battle of the Bulls 299 

yet unclaimed, but there were herds of cattle already 
feeding there, and Mr. Stewart said, — 

" Let 'em feed, boys, while we take a snack." 

It was a glorious business ! The grass was green 
and tender, the wind fresh, the sunlight vivid. 

" I'd like to keep right on all summer, wouldn't you. 
Ranee .? " said Lincoln. 

"Yes," replied Ranee, but his voice was not as fervid 
as Lincoln had expected. 

They stopped for the night, about four o'clock. 
They were still in the wet country, but about twenty 
miles from home. It seemed a very long way indeed 
to Lincoln when Mr. Stewart said, " Well, boys, I 
guess we'll have to go into camp." 

Captain Knapp being an old soldier and a plainsman 
took direction of affairs. He selected a place to 
camp on the east side of a popple grove, out of the 
wind, which grew cold as the night fell. He soon had 
a bright fire going in a trench, while Ranee galloped 
away to a cabin near by to get some milk. Lincoln 
dismounted, but kept his horse in hand, in case the 
cattle should become restless, while Mr. Stewart erected 
the little tent and got out the bedding. 

The scene filled Lincoln's heart with emotions and 
vaguely defined splendid pictures, which he could not 
utter. It was all so grand and true and primeval to 
him. He felt like singing — like chanting a great poem, 
but he only squatted on the ground and stared at the 
flaming fire. 

The meal was eaten hunter-fashion, and its rudeness 



300 Boy Life on the Prairie 

was a merit. Home seemed very far away, and the 
prairie very wide and wild, as night fell. Owen snuggled 
close to his father's knee, listening in silence to Captain 
Knapp's stories of " the service." That was his way 
of alluding to his term of enlistment as a soldier in the 
Civil War. Ranee and Lincoln were out keeping the 
herd close to the camp, with orders to stay with them 
till they began to lie down. 

It was all very mysterious and solemn out there. 
Ducks were gabbling in the pools — frogs seemed sing- 
ing out of the ground everywhere. Flights of prairie 
pigeons went bv, with a whistling sound. The twitter 
of sparrows, the lonely piping of the plover, and the 
ceaseless boom and squawk of the prairie chickens, filled 
the air. Once a wolf barked from a ridge, and Ranee 
said " Hark ! " in the tone of one who fears to be heard. 

At last the cattle, tired and well filled, began to drop 
down on the sod, uttering loud sighs of contentment, and 
the boys returned to the camp fire, which beckoned from 
afar, like the signal fires of the Lidians, in the novels 
the boys had read. 

As they drew near, Captain Knapp said : " Leave the 
saddles on, bo\s, and put vour bridles where you can 
find them. We may need to rout you out, any time." 

This pleased the boys, also ; for they laid down before 
the fire, feeling like young soldiers doing picket duty. 
As a matter of fact, they were tired and needed a good 
bed, but would not complain. 

Mr. Stewart and Owen, with the other boys, drove 
away to a neighboring house, leaving Captain Knapp and 



The Battle of the Bulls 301 

Lincoln and Ranee at the camp. And after an hour of 
talk around the fire, they all crawled into the little tent 
and slept soundly till sunrise. They rose stiff and lame 
from their hard beds, and Lincoln rode forth to turn the 
herd back toward the west, while Ranee helped about 
the breakfast. 

Lincoln considered himself a well-seasoned cowboy, 
as he galloped around the herd, and headed them back 
toward the camp. Breakfast was soon ready, and once 
more they took up their line of march toward the west. 
As they moved they passed another thin line of settle- 
ment, and came at last to the edge of a superb range, 
several miles in extent, and comparatively unspotted with 
cattle. 

"Here's the pasture," said Captain Knapp. 

It was a beautiful place. A great stretch of rolling 
prairie, with small ponds scattered about. It had beau- 
tiful stretches of upland, also, and Lincoln's imagi- 
nation turned the cattle into bison, and his own party 
into redmen, and so felt the bigness and poetry of the 
scene. 

Again they camped, and Captain Knapp selected their 
permanent camping-ground, and laid out a corral, into 
which the cattle were to be driven at night. Arrange- 
ments were made with the nearest settler to board the 
boys, and night fell with all arrangements made, except 
the building of the corral. That night only deepened 
the wonder and wild joy of the task. 

The next morning, as they watched the men climb 
into the wagon, the cowbovs began to realize that thev 



302 



Bov Life on the Prairie 



were now to be actually responsible herders. Captain 
Knapp said : — 

" Now, Ranee, be careful. Put the cattle into the 
corral every night for a week; after that, if they are 
quiet, you won't need to. Watch 'em till they fill up, 
and then go to bed. 
But if it threatens rain, 
or if the flies are bad, 
you'd better bring 'em 
in. Good-bv — take 

care o' yourselves." 

"Look out for Sau- 








gas," said 
Mr. Stew- 
art. 

"Go to 
your meals 
regular," was Mr. Jennings's jocose parting word. 

As the wagon passed over a swell, out of sight, 
Milton cocked his head on one side and said, "Well, 
boys, we're in for it." 

" I guess we weigh a hundred and enough," replied 
Lincoln. 

The first thing necessary was to get the lay of the 



The Battle of the Bulls 303 

land, so they galloped away to a swell, which ran against 
the sky to the west ; from there they could see a large 
blue line of timber, and houses thickening to a settle- 
ment. To the north, the land seemed open and com- 
paratively free of tillage — to the south, farms could 
be seen. 

Below them, to the west, was a big drove of colts, 
and Ranee said, — 

" Milton, you watch the cattle, while Link and I go 
down and look at that herd of horses." 

"All right," said Milton. "Don't be gone long." 

There was mischief in Ranee's eyes as he rode gently 
down toward the herd, which had finished its morning 
feeding and was standing almost motionless on the 
prairie. Some were feeding, others stood gnawing each 
other's withers in friendly civility, some were in a close 
knot to keep away from the flies, stamping uneasily or 
jostling together. Others, still, were lying flat on their 
sides, or rolling in a dusty spot. They were a very 
excellent grade of horses. 

" I wonder which is the leader," said Lincoln. 

" That black mare," replied Ranee. " See her eyes. 
She's ready to stampede." 

Gathering the reins well in hand, he rode slowly up 
to the herd. The colts and young stallions, never 
handled by man, approached with insolent curiosity. 
They had not the craft of the Morgan mare, who knew 
all too well what it meant to fall into the hands of 
men. 

Lincoln's " Rob " began to breathe heavily, and to 



304 Boy Life on the Prairie 

dance in sidewise motion, as the restless ones began to 
swerve and circle around each other. 

Ranee raised a whoop. The black whirled on her 
feet agile as a cat, and away they all went, with thunder 
of hoofs, and bugling from wide-blown nostrils. The 
clumsy colts were transformed into something swift and 
splendid. Their lifted heads and streaming manes dig- 
nified and gave majesty, as they moved off awkwardly 
but swiftly, looking back at their pursuers with peculiar, 
insulting, cunning waving of the head from side to side, — 
the challenge of the horse, — their tails flung out like 
banners. 

But Ranee was a light weight, and his horse once the 
proud leader of a similar herd. He soon outstripped all 
but the savage little black mare, who was running easily. 
Side by side the two horses moved as if in harness, but 
Ranee's Ladrone pulled hard at the bit, showing that 
he was capable of more speed. Lincoln was close be- 
hind. The herd dropped awav and was lost. Ranee, 
lifting his short-handled whip, and swirling the long lash 
round his head, brought it down across the mare's back, 
yelling like a Sioux. 

The mare seemed to flatten out like a wolf, as she let 
out the last link of her speed. Lincoln could see the 
veins come out on her neck, and could hear the roaring 
breath of his own " Rob Rov." The muscles along the 
spine and over the hips of the mare heaved and swelled, 
as Ranee again raised the whip in the air, and brought it 
down along the mare's glossv side. She did not respond. 
She had reached the limit of her stride. 



The Battle of the Bulls 



305 



Suddenly changing the pressure of his knees, the ex- 
ultant lad let the rein fall, and leaning forward shouted 
into the ear of his roan, whose head, hitherto held high, 
straightened and seemed to reach beyond the flying mare 
— she fell behind and wheeled — she was beaten ! And 
Lincoln joined in the exultant whoop of his hero. 




But while the boys were glad to turn and recover 
their breath, the tireless mare lead the drove in wide 
evolutions, wheeling and charging, trotting and gallop- 
ing, always on the outside track, as if to show that 
while Ladrone could beat her on a short run, she was 
fresh and strong while he was winded. The boys re- 
turned to Milton, who had watched the race from the 
ridge. 

X 



3o6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Such movements as this, common with colts, did not 
occur among the cattle. They never moved, except for 
a purpose. They did not seem to feel the same need 
nor to take the same joy in exercise. But they had 
their own tremendous dramas, for all that. They were 
almost incessantly battling among themselves, steer 
against steer, and herd against herd. In this the boys 
took immense delight. In comparison with the struggle 
of great steers, the cock-fighting in which they gloried 
in early spring became of small account. It was as if 
lions warred, when two herds met. 

The boys understood the voices and gestures of cattle 
quite as well as those of roosters, and each had one par- 
ticular animal in whose skill and prowess he had betting 
confidence, and during the long, monotonous davs herds 
were often driven into contact. War always resulted, 
for these cattle were not meek " polled Angus " or 
Jerseys, but great rangy, piebald creatures with keen and 
cruel horns, to whom battle was as instinctive as in a 
wildcat. 

As the boys returned to Milton, he said : — 

"Say, boys, we'll have a dandy fight one o' these 
days. See them cattle ? " 

Sure enough. Slowly rising from a ravine was a big 
herd of cattle, attended by a single horseman. 

"Boys, you stay here," said Lincoln, "and I'll go 
over an' see that feller." 

As he galloped up to the herd, he discovered the 
herder to be a boy a little voungcr than himself, a very 
blond boy, with a keen, shrewd face. 



The Battle of the Bulls 307 

" Hello, where'd you come from ? " he asked. 

"Cedar County. Where do you live ? " 

" 'Bout four miles west o' here. What's your name ? " 

" Lincoln Stewart. What's yours ? " 

" Cecil Johnson. Say, you want to look out for our 
old bull ; he's roamin' round somewhere. He's a terrible 
fighter." 

" What if he is ? If he comes round our herd, old 
Spot'll 'tend to him." 

" Mebbe he will and mebbe he won't. Old Erin 
killed a steer last Sunday. You want to keep on your 
horse when he comes round." 

" We ain't afraid, but you want 'o head your herd 
south, o' there'll be war." 

" I guess our cattle can take care o' their selves." 

This was virtually a declaration of war, and when 
Lincoln reported to Ranee and Milton, Ranee omi- 
nously said, " Let 'em come ; we're here first." 

They were all deeply excited at the prospect of see- 
ing the two strange herds come together. No such 
battle had ever before been possible, and Milton said 
several times during the middle of the day, — 

" Let's kinder aige 'em along toward each other, and 
have it over an' done with." 

But Lincoln opposed this. " Oh, gosh, no ! If we 
did, an' some of 'em got killed, we'd catch lightnin'; but 
if they come together themselves, we're not to blame." 

The herds fed quietly on opposite sides of a timbered 
ridge, till about three o'clock, when a low, deep, sullen, 
far-off roaring was heard. 



3o8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" That's the brindle bull. He's coniin' this way, 
too," said Lincoln, who could see in imagination the 
solitary beast, pacing slowly along, uttering regular mut- 
tering growls, as if half-asleep, and vet angry. 

Ranee twisted his lip into a queer smile. "Well, let 
him come. Old Spot will meet him." 

Old Spot was a big tiger-bodied beast, half Durham 
and half Texan ; a wild, swift, insolent, and savage steer, 
with keen, wide-spreading horns. He had whipped every 
animal on Sun Prairie, and considered himself the neces- 
sary guard of the flock. He was quarrelsome among 
the members of the flock, a danger to horses, and a 
menace to the boys, though they kept him half in awe 
by occasional severe hidings. He heard the distant 
sound, and lifting his head, listened, critically, while the 
boys quivered with delight. 

Soon the solitary warrior topped the ridge, and looking 
over the prairie to the west, challenged the world. He 
tore at the sod with his flat, sharp horns, and threw 
showers of dust and pieces of sod high in the air, and 
threatened and exulted in his strength. 

Then Old Spot commenced to brag in his turn. 
Drawing a little out of the herd, he, too, began to show 
what he could do with hoofs and horns, while the boys, 
wild with interest, cut in behind and urged him gently on. 

It was worth while to see these resolute and defiant 
animals approach each other, challenging, studying each 
other, seeking battle of their own free will. With 
heads held low and rigid as oak, with tongues lolling 
from their red mouths, while the skin wrinkled on their 



The Battle of the Bulls 309 

curved and swollen necks, like the corrugations of a 
shield, they edged in sidelong caution, foot by foot, 
toward a common centre. They came on like skilled 
boxers, snuffing, uttering short and boastful roarings, 
their eyes protruding, their tails waving high, until, 
with sudden crash of skull and horns, they met in 
deadly grapple. 

A moment's silence took place, as they measured 
strength, pushing and straining with sudden relaxations 
and twisting throats, impatient to secure advantages. 
The clash of their shaken, interlocked horns, their deep 
breathing, the terrible glare of their bloodshot eyes, 
became each moment more terrible. The sweat streamed 
from their heaving sides, their great hoofs clutched and 
tore the sod. The boys, tense with excitement, kept the 
herds away, and waited, almost breathlessly, the issue. 
At last Brindle, getting the upper hold, pressed the 
spotted steer's head to the ground, nearly shutting off 
his breath. Lincoln, who was betting on the bull, 
raised a cheer, but the steer was not defeated. From 
his great nostrils he blew the bloody foam, and gathered 
himself for one last desperate effort ; with a sudden jerk 
he ran one long horn under the bull's neck, and with a 
mighty surge, rose under him, flinging him aside, and 
literally running away with him. 

The Sun Prairie boys cheered, but the owner of the 
bull, who had joined them, calmly said, " Old Brin is 
still on deck; don't you forget it." 

Once beaten is always beaten, as a rule, with a steer 
or cow. They seldom dispute the outcome of a first 



3IO Boy Life on the Prairie 

encounter, no matter how old or weak the victor be- 
comes, but with the bull it is a different matter. A young 
bull will return to the battle twice, and even a third 
time. The brindle fled as long as he saw no chance to 
recover, but when the big steer paused, he turned, and 
the battle went on again. The two herds became 
aware of the struggle, and drew near, snuffing and paw- 
ing, circling restlessly, threatening to interfere, but the 
bovs held them away with sudden dashes toward them, 
with their whips in hand. 

Never had such a battle taken place on the prairie. 
Lincoln, skilled in the sign language of animals, under- 
stood that this was a fight to a finish, and a sort of awe 
fell on him. The brindle was heavier, but the steer had 
keener horns, and was quicker on his feet. His tiger- 
like body bent almost double under the bull's mightv 
rushes, but out-sprang again, like a splendid sword 
blade. Both were sensibly weaker at the end of ten 
minutes, but their ferocity continued unabated. They 
were fighting in silence now, wasting no breath in 
boasting. 

Suddenlv, with a dexterous fling, the steer tossed the 
bull aside, and followed with a swift rush for his heart, 
with his keen right horn. Out burst a thin stream of 
blood, and the boys looked at each other in alarm. 

" He's killed him," said Milton. " Old Spot's killed 
him," 

" Not much he hasn't," replied Cecil. " A bull 
never gives up. He's just beginning to get mad." 

Whipping into line, the brindle again met his antago- 



The Battle of the Bulls 311 

nist, and with another mad rush pinned Spot to the 
ground, as before, but his horns were too short to hold 
him. Again the steer rose. 

The battle-ground shifted, the boys following, their 
muscles aching with the strain. At this moment arose 
a new sound, a wild and savage roar, a long-drawn, 
powerful, raucous note, ending in a singular upward 
squealing inflection, which was instantly followed by 
other similar outcries. The boys, pale with fear, 
turned to look. A big, line-back-steer stood above the 
pool of fresh blood, and with nose held to the ground, 
with open mouth and protruding tongue, was calling for 
vengeance. The herds, hitherto merely restless, woke 
to fury. They flung themselves upon that calling sen- 
tinel. From a herd of largely feeding, stupidly sleeping 
domestic animals, they woke to the fury of their mighty 
ancestors. They had the action of bison — the voices 
of lions. 

In an instant the two gladiators were hidden by a 
swarm of bawling, rushing, crowding cattle, from which 
the herders fled in terror. Out of the mass of dusty, 
sweaty, bloody beasts, waving tails fluttered, and up- 
flung dust and sod arose; while above the mutter and roar 
and trample that thrilling, hair-uplifting, bawling roar, 
heard only when roused by the scent of blood, was emit- 
ted by old and young. It seemed as if the herds would 
annihilate each other, and the boys were pale with 
apprehension and a sense of guilt. Nothing could be 
done but wait. " They'll kill each other. There 
won't be a yearling left," said Lincoln. 



3 1 2 Boy Life on the Prairie 

For nearly thirty minutes the herds fought, then 
panting, wet with sweat, and covered with grass and 
dust, the two herds wore apart, and the boys, gaining 
courage, darted in and forced them in opposite direc- 
tions. The brindle bull was then discovered still fight- 
ing, but weak and bloody. He had become separated 
from his chief antagonist. As his herd moved off, he 
sullenly, slowly followed, scorning to be hurried, and 
the boys called it a " draw gan?e," and declared all bets 
off, glad to find that no dead animals remained on the 
field of battle. 

As night drew on, the boys began to realize that they 
were alone with a restless herd. It was two miles to 
the shanty where they were to get their meals, and as 
Milton and Lincoln galloped away, leaving Ranee to 
keep an eye on the cattle, Lincoln said, " I hope it 
won't rain to-night." 

" I'm a little nervous myself" 

They were very critical of the food at Mrs. Ander- 
son's table. The butter didn't suit them, and the bread 
was sour. They returned to Ranee in gloomy spirits. 
While he went to supper, they rounded up the cattle, 
and held them near the corral till he came back to help 
force the reluctant beasts in. 

As they unsaddled their horses and picketed them out, 
the sky looked gray and lowering. 

"It would be just our luck to have a three-days 
soaker," said Ranee. 

Just as they were going to sleep, a wolf set up a 
clamor, and a thrill of fear shot through Lincoln's 



The Battle of the Bulls 



3^3 



heart. He knew the wolf was harmless, but in his 
voice was the loneliness and mystery of night, and the 
boy shivered. The cattle stirred uneasily, and the horses 
snorted ; but Ranee, who was the strong man of the 
party, rose and spoke to them and they became quiet. 

The rain did not come, and they found the cattle safe 
when they awoke next morning, but their bones were 
sore on account of their hard beds, and it was a long 
way to breakfast and a mighty poor breakfast when they 
sat down to it. Herding seemed to have lost something 
of its glamour. However, as the sun rose and the blood 
of youth began to warm up, the charm of the wild life 
came back again. 

The hard beds they soon got used to, but the bad bread 
was a trial which each day made more grievous. They 
were all accustomed to good cooking. Their food was 
monotonous, but it was always tastily prepared. Mil- 
ton gave in first. " I'm going home to get a square 
meal," he said, as he swung into the saddle. Lincoln 
was homesick, too, but dared not show it in the presence 
of his commander. 

Milton came back a week later with Owen, who 
brought word that Lincoln was wanted to work in the 
corn-field. 

This laconic message brought back all the charm of 
the wild, tree life on the prairie, which was growing more 
beautiful each day, and Lincoln rode away homeward 
joylessly. He knew all too well what it meant to 
run a wheeled plough through the dust and heat of a 
midsummer day. 



314 



Bov Life on the Prairie 



To make matters worse, he was obliged to turn Rob 
Roy over to Owen and ride a plough-horse on the 
homeward journey. But it seemed good to get home, to 
get a good meal once more, and to hear the familiar 
voices. He had been three weeks with the herd, and 
this was a prodigious long time to an imaginative bov. 
It was good to sleep in a bed again without a hair's- 
weight of responsibility, with no thought of the darkness 
outside or the rising clouds in the west. Shingles had 
their uses, after all. 




MASSASAUGA 

A COLD, coiled line of mottled lead, 
He wakes where grazing cattle tread 
And lifts a fanged and spiteful head. 
His touch is deadly, and his eyes 
Are hot with hatred and surprise. 
Death waits and watches where he lies. 

His hate is turned toward everything ; 

He is the undisputed king 

Of every path and meadow spring. 

His venomed head is poised to smite 

All passing feet — light 

Is not swifter than his bite. 

His touch is deadly, and his eyes 
Are hot with hatred and surprise. 
Death waits and watches where he lies. 




315 



CHAPTER XXI 

THE TERROR OF THE RATTLESNAKE 

This new pasture ground was filled with Massasaugas. 
Hardly a day passed that the boys did not kill one or 
more with their whips, and several of the cattle were 
badly bitten during the first week. The bovs were 
heedful where they set their feet, and never lay down in 
the grass without a glance at the ground around them. 
They seemed to know almost by instinct the kind of 
herbage in which the reptiles were likely to be found. 

Tales of their deadly fangs were not so common as 
one might suppose, but one or two had made a profound 
impression upon Lincoln. One was the minute account 
of a boy who had been bitten while out after the cows 
and who had run all the way home, heating his blood to 
boiling-point, and diffusing the virus through every vein. 
Before the doctor could be brought, the wounded one 
was delirious with pain and fear, and died as the sun 
went down. 

Whiskey was supposed to be a sure cure if the \ictim 
could be made drunk at once, and there were a great 
many jokes current among the men about " an ounce of 
prevention," etc. Each accused the other of taking a 
drink every time a locust rattled, but it always seemed 
a grisly subject for joke to Lincoln, especially after 
Doudncy's nephew, Will, died of a bite. He was rid- 

316 



Terror of the Rattlesnake 317 

ing home with his uncle one Saturday night, when they 
overtook a big " Sauga " crossing the road. 

" Wait, see me snap his head off," said Will, leaping 
from the wagon. 

" Don't do it. Let him alone, you fool," cried 
Doudney. 

The man had been drinking and was reckless. "Oh! 
I've done it dozens of times," he called back, as he ap- 
proached the serpent, which coiled and faced his enemy, 
ready for war. 

The reckless young man waved his hat before the 
snake, and as he uncoiled and started to run, snatched 
him up, but flung him to the earth with a curse of pain 
and rage. The snake had sunk his fangs deep into his 
hand, between the forefinger and the thumb. 

With snarling fury, the frenzied man flung himself 
on the snake, and literally tore him to pieces with his 
hands. He foamed at the mouth as he cursed : " Bite, 
will ye ! God damn you, bite me ! I'll show you." 
He ended by grinding the snake under his heel. 

Doudney sprang out of the wagon, and rushing up to 
him, called out : — 

" Stop, you fool. You'll die in thirty minutes if you 
keep that up. Keep quiet. Give me your arm." 

He bared the bitten arm, and put a tourniquet about 
it, and opening his whiskey flask said, " Drink this, 
every drop of it, or you're a dead man." 

The young man began to realize what he had done, 
and with a face made gray with fear, turned to Doudney 
and gasped : — 



3 1 8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" I can't. Get me to a doctor, quick. I'm going to die." 

" Drink ! That'll keep you up till we can reach 
help." 

The man was a coward, and the reaction was almost 
instantaneous. He was so weak he could hardly re- 
turn to the wagon. Hastening his horses into a run, 
Doudney turned to the nearest house, and there put his 
nephew to bed and sent for the doctor. The whiskey 
did not avail. He died before the doctor arrived. 

These two cases were known to all the boys in Sun 
Prairie, and they had been instructed not merely how to 
avoid the snake, but what to do in case they were 
bitten. Though Lincoln had no fear of them, they 
awed him. They appealed to his imagination. Often 
when he found them on the prairie (the horses always 
found them first — they seemed to smell them) he dis- 
mounted, and if the place were open, studied the 
fearsome creatures. There was dignity in their slow 
movement. They were not to be hurried, and there 
was power in the poise of their flat, triangular heads, and 
deep meaning in their jewel-bright eyes, and death was 
in the flicker of each forked, black tongue. 

They seemed to say : " Let me alone, and Lm harm- 
less. Touch me, and I kill." 

So long as he could see them, Lincoln had no fear; 
but when they were hid in the deep grass, or when their 
rattle sounded from a tangle of weeds, his heart grew 
cold with the sense of being in the presence of death's 
ambuscade. Somewhere that poised head waited. In 
the shadow that mottled coil was slowl\ sliding. 



Terror of the Rattlesnake 319 

Often, as the herd was feeding quietly through a 
meadow, a cow or a colt would suddenly leap aside in 
terror of some unseen form, and the boys knew the cold 
gray body of a " Sauga " had blocked the way. By 
riding carefully about the spot in a circle, they often 
found him curled and singing, and cut him to pieces 
with their whips, eager to destroy him before he could 
escape. These encounters always left them a little ex- 
cited, and at night Lincoln sometimes dreamed of them, 
especially of those which escaped into the weeds. 

As a matter of fact their habits and habitations were 
so well known, and so few cases of poisoning were 
authenticated, that no one paid very much heed to tales 
of horror — the case of Doudney's nephew was ques- 
tioned by some, who said, " He had heart disease, any- 
way. He wouldn't have died if he had been a well 
man." 

One hot June day, three boys came over the ridge 
with tin buckets in their hands, seeking strawberries. 
They were all barefoot and very noisy. They set to 
work in the edge of a patch of hazel, where the berries 
were especially large and fine. 

Ranee was lying on his back under a popple tree, 
resting, while Lincoln, sitting slaunch-wise in his saddle, 
was watchino; the movement of the herd. 

Suddenly a cry of mortal terror broke from one of the 
berry-pickers. There was an instant pause, and then 
scream after scream in rapid succession, each moment 
weaker, till they died away in a whimper, like the cries 
of a wounded dog. 



320 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Ranee leaped to his feet, just in time to see the other 
boys scatter wildly, calling frenziedlv : — 

" Rattlesnake ! Rattlesnake ! " 

Ranee dug his heels into his horse, and was instantly 
awav, Lincoln following at once. 

As he rode up. Ranee saw a bov of about twelve 
years of age sitting on the ground with his bare foot in 
his hands, his face ghastly, his eyes stupid with fear, his 
lips dry and twitching, his voice sunk to a gasping 
moan. The snake was gone. 

Leaping down, Ranee examined the foot. On the 
instep were four small wounds, from which blood and a 
light green foam issued. The width of the jaw of the 
snake was indicated in the distance between the punc- 
tures. The reptile was large, and had bitten the boy 
twice. 

"Shut up ! " said Ranee. " Keep still. Crying only 
makes it worse. Link, give me a strap, quick," he 
called, as Lincoln came galloping up. 

As he held the boy's ankle tightly gripped in both his 
hands. Ranee thought rapidly. It was three miles to 
the nearest house, and eight miles to the nearest town. 
The boy could not be moved eight miles, and he would 
die before help could be brought, unless the poison could 
be stayed in its course through the blood. He took the 
strap, which Lincoln loosened from his bridle, and wind- 
ing it round just below the knee, twisted it with a jack- 
knife till the lad cried out in pain. 

"Set it up tight," said Lincoln. "It's the only 
chance." 



Terror of the Rattlesnake 321 

" Say, you remember the story about putting the 
fellow in the mud ? " Lincoln nodded. 

" Well, you go for help. I'm going to put the bov 
into that puddle and hold him there. Here, you fellers. 
Come here." The other two boys came cautiously up. 
« Git, Link. Ride like hell ! " 

Lincoln leaped to the saddle, and was off before 
Ranee had time to speak a second time. 

" Come here ! " commanded Ranee. " What you 
'fraid of? Grab a hold here. The snake is gone. 
We've got to get this boy into that puddle. One of 
you hold my horse. You take hold here," 

Under his vigorous commands the larger of the two 
boys took hold under the stricken lad's shoulders, and 
they partially carried and partially dragged him to the 
edge of the little pool. With swift and resolute action. 
Ranee scooped out a hollow in the mud and forced the 
boy's leg down into it, and began heaping the cool, ill- 
smelling muck over him. 

" Lie still, now. I won't drown you. You'll die if you 
don't do as I say. Dig, dig ! " he shouted to the other lad. 
" Sink him down. There, don't that feel good ? That 
cool mud will draw the poison out. One o' you go cut a 
big hazel bush. I'm going to keep the ' turnkey ' on him." 

The touch of the cool mud, as well as Ranee's en- 
couraging words, quieted the boy, and he lay gasping piti- 
fully, his big set and staring eyes like some poor dumb 
animal waiting the death stroke of his captors. The 
tourniquet made him cry out again, but Ranee held it 
with all his force. 

Y 



322 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" It won't do no good if it don't hurt," he said. 

For half an hour he held this ligature in the mud and 
water, while the others were sinking their comrade deeper 
in the muck. Sitting so, Ranee had a full realization 
of the desolating power which lay in the little, white, 
needle-pointed curved fangs of the Massasauga. 

"He was in the path. I stepped on him," the boy 
gasped in answer to a question, and Ranee could see 
the sullen reptile striking once, and shaking loose with 
a sinister curve of his neck, to strike again, and then, as 
if knowing his poison sacks were empty, slipping away 
into cover, leaving his victim to writhe and die. 

Ranee's muscles ached with the strain, but he held on 
grimly, changing hands as he grew numb. It seemed an 
hour before a man came galloping over the ridge. It 
was Anderson, the Norwegian, with whom they boarded. 

" Hello ! " he said, as he galloped up. " Hae bacn 
bit by snake ? " 

" That's what," replied Ranee. " Come here and 
take hold of this turnkey. I'm just about used up." 

*' Ae got al-co-hol. Yimmy, haer, yo' take good 
swig." 

The boy took a mouthful of the burning stuff, but 
could not swallow it. He spit it out with a crv : " I 
can't. I can't ! " 

" Batter yo' trv," persisted Anderson. " Hae baen 
gude." 

" Why didn't you bring some water to mix with it ? " 
said Ranee. " Go get some quick. He can't drink 
that stuff." 



Terror of the Rattlesnake ^'^3 

By the time the alcohol was diluted, the boy was 
crazy with the pain of his wound and the cramp of his 
position in the water, and refused to drink. 

Anderson was for forcing it down his throat, but 
Ranee stopped him. 

The boys set up a shout. " Here comes somebody," 

Lincoln, followed by a wagon driven furiously, topped 
the swell. The driver was swinging the reins, beating 
the horses to still more furious pace. Link came float- 
ing down the ridge, sitting his horse gracefully, making 
the excitement seem only a part of a merry race. 

As the wagon drew near, a shrill voice was heard in 
weeping. Two men were holding a woman from leap- 
ing out of the wagon. It was the mother of the boy 
crazed with maternal fear. 

Lincoln called out : " He's all right. Don't worry," 

'' You hear. He's alive. Be quiet now," said one 
of the men, as he leaped to the ground. " Now come 
down." 

In a moment the three men and the frenzied mother 
encircled the boy. 

The father of the boy excitedly said : " What's he in 
the mud for ? Take him out." 

"That's all right. Leave him alone," put in one of 
the other men, as he relieved Ranee. " Good idea." 

The mother, kneeling by the boy's head, said over 
and over, " Do you know me, Freddie ? " 

Ranee rose and fairly staggered to his horse. His re- 
sponsibility ended when the parents came. He watched 
them while they dragged the boy out of the mud and 



324 Boy Life on the Prairie 

examined his swollen leg. In truth, it all began to 
look like a foolish piece of business even to him. He 
looked round him at the horses nibbling grass, at the 
cattle peacefully grazing, at the shadow-dappled prairie, 
and it all seemed a mistake, a dream. It could not be 
that the boy was in the throes of dissolution. It could 
not be that death lurked in the sun-bright grass and the 
rustling hazel bushes. For a moment he felt hot with 
shame for having done such a foolish thing. But the 
moaning of the stricken boy helped him to remember 
the wound, the oozing froth, and the terror of the 
snake. 

The mother climbed into the wagon, the boy was 
laid in her lap, the father, holding the ligature, knelt be- 
side him, and so thev drove awav, leaving Ranee and 
Lincoln standing beside the pool with the Norwegian. 

"Well — bote tem to eat; ae tank ae go home. 
Batter yo go home too. Link." 

"As soon as we kill the snake," replied Ranee. 

Beginning in a narrow circle, the boys rode slowly 
round and round, in a constantly widening course; but 
the bush was too thick ; the snake had crawled away 
deep in the tangle to wait till his fangs should once 
more be charged with venom. 

"They didn't thank you for putting that boy in the 
mud, did they ? " remarked Lincoln, as they were rid- 
ing away to supper. " It got his clothes dirty." 

Ranee did not reply. He felt foolish and a little 
hurt, also. Suppose it was not the very best thing to 
do, he deserved a good word for his intentions, anyway. 



Terror of the Rattlesnake 325 

The next morning one of the men who had helped to 
carry the boy came riding over the prairie. As he drew 
near, he looked at Ranee closely. 

"Are you the chap that put Fred into the mud ? " 

Ranee hotly replied: "Yes, I am. What y' goin' 
to do about it ? " 

"You needn't get huffy. I just came over to say 
that my sister, Mrs. Pease, wants to see you. The 
doctor says you saved the boy's life, and she'd kind o' 
like to do for you some way." 

Ranee was suspicious and angry. " Well, you go 
back and let me alone. The next time your darn boy 
gets bit, he can go to hell. I did the best I could, and 
I've been devilled about it ever since, and I'm sick of it. 
Think I'm a doctor out here herdin' cattle for my 
health ? " He turned his horse and galloped off, leaving 
the stranger stupefied. 

" I didn't mean to devil him," he said to Lincoln, 
who was also turning away in sympathy. " The doctor 
said the boy done the best thing that could a' been done. 
Mrs. Pease did send me over here to get the boy." 

" Well," said Lincoln, " you let him alone. He 
don't want a woman slobbering over him. He did the 
best he knew how, and that's all anybody can do." 

When Ranee and Lincoln went home to help harvest, 
the wounded boy had not yet risen from his bed. It 
was reported that his leg was spotted "just like a snake, 
and swelled so you can't see where his knee is." They 
never saw the boy or his mother again. 

As the autumn came on, the herding became serious 



^26 Boy Life on the Prairie 

business. Into beautiful gold and purple October, great 
slashes of gray rain swept. There were days vyhen the 
wind was northeast and the drizzle steady and pitiless. 
It was damp and gloomy in the trail, the ground was 
soggy under foot. The bridles and saddles were slip- 
pery and the landscape sombre. On such days hours 
stretched out like rubber, and night came cheerlessly. 
The boys, unkempt and miserable, hoyered around a small 
camp-fire, or sat by the kitchen sto\e in Anderson's 
shanty, thinking how nice it would seem to be at home. 

These rains ended each time in weather partly clear 
and progressively colder. The sumach blazed forth in 
beauty. The popple trees dropped their leaves and 
stood bare in the whistling winds. The hazel thickets 
were also bare and brown, and on the ground the nuts lay 
thickly strewn. The barbs of the wild oats, twisted and 
harsh, fell to the earth, and the stalks of the crow's-foot 
stood slenderly upholding a frayed sprangle of empty 
seed-cells. The gophers were busy storing nuts and 
seeds, the badgers, heavy with fat, were seen waddling 
along the ridges on warm days, or sitting meditatively 
beside their dens, as if taking their last view of the land- 
scape they loved. 

The blackbirds, assembling in enormous flocks, loaded 
down the branches of the aspen groves, and chattered 
of the joys past as well as of the sunny days to come. 
Prairie pigeons whistled by on m\sterious imperative 
errands, curving over the hills like an aerial serpent. The 
prairie chickens assembled in large flocks also, the young 
no longer distinguishable from their elders. The grass- 



Terror of the Rattlesnake 327 

hoppers and crickets sang only during the warm hours 
of the day — and long intervals of silence fell upon the 
plain, when only the piping of the wind in the weeds 
could be heard. One by one all the hardy autumn 
plants ripened or were cut down by the frost until only 
stern grays and drabs and sombre yellows and browns 
remained upon the landscape. 

There was something fine and prophetic in these days, 
for all that. The moaning of the wind, the hurry of 
the clouds, the blown birds hastening south, the harsh 
sky filled with torn gray clouds, forecasting winter, made 
the hearts of the herd-boys leap, for they anticipated re- 
lease, and foretasted the pleasures of their winter games. 

At last the order for return march came, and the four 
inseparable boys started eastward with the cattle fat 
and full of mischief. The beeves were cut out and sold 
at Taylor City, and the young cattle hurried homeward. 

Captain Knapp sold all his young stock, and as no one 
else cared to engage the herd, neither Ranee nor Lincoln 
returned to the range. Mr. Stewart set aside part of the 
farm for pasture, and the boys put away their cattle-whips 
and hung up their pouches. Each year the output of 
butter increased and the production of beef diminished. 
On every side the tame was driving out the wild. The 
sickle soon swept every acre of meadow, and the reign 
of the Massasauga was ended. 



IN THE DAYS WHEN THE CATTLE RAN 

It was worth the while of a boy to live 

In the days when the prairie lay wide to the herds, 

When the sod had a hundred jovs to give 

And the wind had a thousand words. 

It was well to be led 

Where the wild horses fed 
As free as the swarming birds. 

Not yet had the plough and the sickle swept 
The lily from meadow, the roses from hill. 
Not yet had the horses been haltered and kept 
In stalls and sties at a master's will. 

With eyes wild-blazing, 

Or drowsilv grazing. 
They wandered untouched by the thill. 

And the boy ! With torn hat flaring, 
With sturdy red legs which the thick brambles tore, 
As wild as the colts, he went faring and sharing 
The grasses and fruits which the brown soil bore. 

Treading softly for fear 

Of the snake ever near, 
Unawed by the lightning or black tempest's roar. 

But out on the prairie the ploughs crept together. 
The meadow turned black at stroke of the share, 

328 



Days when the Cattle Ran 329 

The shaggy colts yielded to clutch of the tether, 
The red lilies died, and the vines ceased to bear. 

And nothing was left to the boys 

But the dim remembrance of joys 

When the swift cattle ran, 

Unhindered of man. 
And their herders were free as the clouds in the air. 



CHAPTER XXII 

OWEN RIDES AT THE COUNTY FAIR 

The one break in the monotony of the farm's fall 
work was the County Fair, which usually came about 
the 20th of September. Toward this, Lincoln and his 
mates looked longingly. By this time they were inex- 
pressibly weary of the ploughing and cattle-tending, and 
longed for a yisit to the town. There were always 
three days of the Fair, but only two were of any amuse- 
ment to the boys. The first day was always taken up 
in preparation, getting the stock housed and the like; 
the fun came on the last day with the races, though 
Lincoln was always mildly interested in the speech- 
making on the second day. 

The older boys planned to take their sweethearts, 
just as on the Fourth of July, and the wives and 
mothers baked up dozens of biscuits, and baked chicken, 
and made pies and cake for dinner on the grounds. 
The country was new, and the show was not great, but 
it called the people together, and that was something. 
So most of the threshing-machines fell silent for a single 
day, the ploughs rested in the furrow, and the men put 
on clean shirts. The women, however, kept on work- 
ing up to the very hour of starting for the grounds. 
Their work was never done. After getting everything 

330 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 331 

and everybody else ready they took scant time to get 
themselves ready — all the others clamoring to be off. 
The weather was usually clear and dry, cool of a 
morning, becoming hot and windless at noon, but on 
this particular day it was cold and cloudy, making over- 
coats necessary at the start. 

The four inseparable boys rode away together, their 
horses shining with the extra brushing they had endured. 
Ranee was mounted on " Ivanhoe," Lincoln rode " Rob 
Roy," Milton " Mark," while Owen rode a four year old 
colt which he called " Toot," for some curious reason, 
while the rest of the family generally spoke of her as 
" Kitty." She was almost pure blood Morgan, a bright 
bay, very intelligent, and for a short dash very swift. 
Owen was entered for " The Boys' Riding Contest " ; 
the other three boys were all too old to come in, but 
were going down with him as body-guard. It was a 
goodly land to look at ; trim stacks of wheat stood four 
and four about the fields. The corn was heavy with 
ears, and the sound of the threshing-machine came into 
hearing each mile or two. Only the homes showed 
poverty. 

The boys did not stop in town — merely rode through 
the street and on down toward the Fair Grounds. At 
the gate, where two very important keepers stood at 
guard, the boys halted, and Ranee, after collecting 
quarters from his fellows, bought the four tickets ; the 
keepers fell back appeased, and the boys rode in, their 
fine horses causing people to remark, " There are some 
boys for the races, I guess." 



^^2 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The boys were all very proud of these remarks, and 
galloped around the track to show oft" their horses and 
to get the lay of the land. 

" We mustn't wind our nags," said Ranee, after 
making the circuit once or twice. " Let's tie up." 

While the people were pouring in at the gates, the 
bovs rode slowly round the grounds to see what was 
displayed ; on past fat sheep and blooded stallions and 
prize cows and Poland-China pigs ; on past new-fangled 
sulky ploughs, "Vibrator" threshing-machines, and so 
on. The stock didn't interest them so much as the 
whirligig and the candy-puller, and the man who twisted 
copper wire into "Mamie" and "Arthur" for "the 
small sum of twenty-five cents, or a quarter of a dollar." 

One or two enormous Norman horses, being a new 
importation, commanded their attention, and they joined 
the crowd around them and listened to the comments 
with interest ; but the crowd, after all, was the wonder. 
The swarming of so many people, all strangers, was 
sufficient, of its own motion, to keep the open-eyed boys 
busy. They were there, not to see hogs and cattle, but 
the strange fakirs and the curious machines, and the 
alien industries. A deft and glib seller of collar-buttons 
and lamp-chimney wipers enthralled them, and a girl, 
playing a piano in " Horticultural Hall," entranced them ; 
at least, she so appealed to Lincoln and to Ranee — her 
plaving had the vim and steady clatter of a barrel piano, 
but it stood for music in absence of anything better. 

Hitching their horses to the family wagons, which 
had by this time arrived, the boys wandered about afoot. 



Owen Rides at the County Fair ^33 

Lincoln and Owen had on new suits. The Fair was 
the time set apart for the one suit they were able to 
afford each year. Sometimes it was bought on Fair 
day, but usually a little before, so that the great day 
should be free for other pleasures. Their suits never 
fitted, of course, and Owen's was always of the same 
goods precisely as Lincoln's, differing in size merely. 
They were of thick woollen goods of strange checks and 
stripes, the shoddy refuse of city shops which the local 
dealers bought cheap and sold dear — being good enough 
for country folks. As they were intended for all the 
year round, they were naturally uncomfortable in the 
middle of September and intolerable in July. Even on 
this windy day, the boys sweated their paper collars into 
pulp before they concluded to lay off their coats and go 
about in their shirt-sleeves. As it was one of the few 
occasions when they could reasonably be dressed up, 
they were willing to suffer a little martyrdom for pride's 
sake. 

Lincoln's heart was full of bitterness as he saw the 
town boys go by in well-fitting garments, looking com- 
fortable even while in dressed-up conditions. His hat 
troubled him also, for it was of a shape entirely unlike 
anything else on the grounds. The other boys were 
almost all wearing a hat with a tall crown and a narrow 
rim, but his hat, and Owen's as well, was a flat-crowned 
structure, heavy and thick, and to make matters worse, 
it was too large, and Owen's, especially, came down 
and rested against his ears. 

Another cause of shame to Lincoln was the cut on 



334 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

his hair. Up to this time he had never enjoyed a "real 
barber cut." Mr. Stewart generally detailed one of the 
hired men to the duty, and the boys were, in very truth, 
" shingled." Both had heavy heads of brown hair, and 
after Jim Beane got done with them they had ruffles like 
a pineapple, or a girl's nightgown. Ranee and Milton 
had long ago rebelled against this kind of torture, and 
employed the barber at least twice each year. Milton 
declared on his thirteenth birthday, "No hired man shall 
chaw my hair off again, and don't you forget it." 

This Fair day marked another great advance in Lin- 
coln's life. He ate no candy or peanuts, and by his advice 
Owen limited himself to " home-made candy " and a 
banana, which he allowed Lincoln to taste. Neither 
of them had ever seen one before. "If you want to 
scoop in that saddle, Owen, you keep well," Lincoln 
said, every time Owen suggested trying some new drink 
or confection. 

Ranee was bitterly disappointed when he found him- 
self shut out of the contest for the saddle, and was very 
glum all the forenoon. Lincoln shared his disappoint- 
ment, although he cared very little about his own part 
in it. He believed Ranee to be the best rider in the 
county, but did not expect to win a prize himself. 

One bv one they met all their friends from Sun 
Prairie and Burr Oak, and once they met "Freckles," 
the town bully, face to face. He made furious signs of 
battle, and dared them to go over to the back fence with 
him, to which Owen replied by putting his thumb to his 
nose, and waving his fingers like a flag. " Freckles " was 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 335 

visibly enraged by this, but as the Sun Prairie boys were 
in full force, and confident, he withdrew, uttering threats. 

Wonderful to say, the boys were able to share in the 
jolly dinner which their mothers arranged on the grass 
between the wagons, over on the south side of the 
grounds. The wagon-seats were taken off to serve 
as chairs : a snowy-white cloth was spread as neatly as 
on a table, and the entire Jennings family joined in the 
feast of cold chicken, jelly, pickles, " riz " biscuits, dried 
beef, apple pie, cake, and cheese. Lincoln had never 
felt so well on a holiday, and his spirits rose instead of 
sinking as the day wore on. Owen was fed with anxious 
care by his mother. He was even allowed to drink a 
cup of coffee as a special tonic. 

Mr. Stewart declined to take the contest seriously, 
but Mr. Jennings agreed that some provision should be 
made for the older boys. 

" I'll see the President of the Day," he said, " and 
see if a special contest can't be arranged to follow the 
boys' race." 

The idea pleased everybody, and spread from lip to 
lip, till it became a definite announcement. 

Meanwhile various unimportant matters, like display- 
ing sheep and cattle, and beets and honey, for prizes, 
were going on, when Mr. Stewart came back where 
Lincoln was observing the candy-puller for the twenti- 
eth time. He said, " Lincoln, go get the team ; I've 
entered you for the pulling match." 

Lincoln's heart suddenly failed him, " Oh, I can't do 
that before all those people." 



^^6 Boy Life on the Prairie 

"Yes, you can. Go hitch up." 

As he drove his team through the crowd, with alter- 
nate traces unhooked to drag the double tree, Lincoln 
felt just as he used to feel when rising to recite a piece 
in school on a holiday. He was queer and sick at his 
heart, but something nerved him to the trial. 

The crowd opened, and he swung the horses to the 
stone-boat walled in by spectators. Dan and Jule were 
not large, but they were broad in the chest, and loyal to 
the centre of each brown eye, and they knew him. He 
had the opinion that they could pull anything they set 
their shoulders to, and as he gathered up the reins his 
eyes cleared. He climbed upon the load. The Judge 
said : — 

" Keep quiet, everybody. All ready, my boy." 

Lincoln's voice was calm as he said: "Steady now, 
Jule. Chk-chk, Dan, steady now." The noble animals 
settled to the load, obeying every word. Dan was a 
little in advance, a few inches, with his legs set. " Get 
down there, Jule," called the boy. The old mare 
squatted, set her shoulders to the collar, lifting like a 
trained athlete, and the stone-boat slid half its length. 
The crowd applauded. " Bully boy ! " 

"All right," said the Judge, "take 'cm off for a 
minute. Anderson, it's your turn again." 

Anderson, a Norwegian, with a fine showy team, 
hitched on, but could not move it ; not because his 
horses were not strong enough, but because they were 
nervous and tricky. The audience jeered at him — 
"Take 'em off; they're no good." 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 337 

Lime Gilman came next, and Lincoln lost his exulta- 
tion as the big fellow winked at him. His team were 
brown Morgan grades, as responsive to his voice as 
dogs. They were the lightest of all the teams, but they 
were beautiful to see as they swung to place. Their 
harnesses were covered with costly ivory rings, and as 
they wore no blinders, they eyed their master in love, 
not fear. The crowd uttered a cheer of genuine admira- 
tion as Lime heaved two extra rocks upon the load. 

As he took the reins in one hand Lime began utter- 
ing a pleasant, bird-like, chirping sound. Slowly, softly, 
the superbly intelligent creatures squared and squatted 
together, setting their feet fairly, flatly, and carefully on 
the sod. 

" Dexter, boy ! " said Lime, and at the soft word the 
load slid nearly a yard. 

" Ho ! that'll do, boys," called Lime, and said with a 
smile, as he turned to Lincoln, " Try again. Link." 

" It's yours," shouted the crowd. 

" Oh, no it isn't," said Lime. " I know this boy and 
his team ! " 

A big, long-legged gray team took a second trial, but 
though they tugged furiously, could not move the extra 
weight. " They're up too high upon legs," said the 
Judge, critically. 

Anderson was out of the contest, so that Lincoln was 
Lime's only rival. The boy had forgotten all his shy- 
ness. He threw off his coat and hat, and said to the 
Judge, — 

" Pile on two more stones." 
z 



2^8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" Good for you, sonny ! " some one said as Lime 
threw on one of the big flat Hmestone slabs. Again 
Lincohi swung his faithful team in and hooked the 
traces. As he climbed on the load and took the reins 
in hand, he was tense with excitement ; he saw only 
Lime's pleasant face and his father's anxious smile. 

" Stiddy, Dan. Take hold of it ; w-o-oo-p, stiddy ! " 
Again they settled to the task, their great muscles roll- 
ing, their ears pointing, their eyes quiet. For a few 
moments they hung poised — 

" No-w^ Jule ! " shouted Lincoln, and the mare lifted, 
strained to her almost best, but the load did not 
move. 

" Ho ! " shouted Lincoln, checking them so that they 
would not become discouraged. 

" Give it up. Take off a stone," cried a friendly 
voice. 

" Not much," said Lincoln. 

Springing from the load, he drew the reins over Jule's 
back, and again called on Dan to take his position, and 
just as thev settled to their work, Lincoln brought his 
hand with a sharp slap under Jule's belly. 

" Jule ! " 

With a tremendous effort the grand brute lifted the 
boat six good inches, and the crowd clapped hands 
heartily. 

" That's enough. Unhitch," called the Judge. 

It was now Lime's turn to swing into place. 

'' Good boy. Link," he said as he passed. 

Once more he swung his horses to the load, but this 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 339 

time he looped the reins over Dexter's brass-bound har- 
ness, and took his place nearer his side. 

Cbifp^ chirps chirp f 

Again the brown team settled into place. 

" Easy now, Dexter. Easy, Dave. Now then, boys, 
all together. Get down^ hoy ! " With the simultaneous 
action of shadows, the beautiful horses squatted and 
lifted, guided only by their master's words. For nearly 
half a minute they held to the work, their necks out- 
thrust, their feet clutching the earth, steady, loyal, 
bright-eyed, unwavering, pulling every pound that was 
in them. Such action had never been seen on the Fair 
Grounds, but they were defeated, — they had not the 
weight necessary ; the task was too great. 

They released their hold only when Lime spoke the 
word, and the crowd was vociferous with admiration. 

"That's what ye might call pullin'." 

" Call it a draw. Judge." 

" I'm willing," said Lincoln, who had expected the 
browns to move the load, for he knew Lime's wonderful 
horsemanship. 

Mr. Stewart came forward, " We'll divide the 
honors, Lime." 

And the Judge so decided, while the spectators pressed 
close around the brown horses, to feel of their sleek 
coats and to look at their sturdy legs. In looks and 
character no team on the grounds approached them. 

As Lincoln rejoined the boys, they received him with 
a touch of awe, because of his honorable public exhibition 
of skill and the prize he had won. 



340 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" I knew old Jule would lift it," said Lincoln. " But 
Lime's team scared me. I knew they could pull. Lve 
seen 'em dig down on a load while Lime lit his pipe." 

The ringing of the signal bell broke in upon the talk, 
and a crier galloped through the grounds shouting, " Get 
ready for ' the Boys' Contest.' " 

" That's you, Owen," said Lincoln. 

Owen stripped as for battle. He could not ride in 
his lumpy, heavy coat, and his hat was also an incum- 
brance. With hands trembling with excitement, Lin- 
coln helped him set the saddle on Kitty, and wipe from 
her limbs all dust and sweat. She shone like a red bottle 
when the youngster clambered to his seat. 

" Don't touch her with the whip," said Lincoln. 

" Look out for the crowd at the home-stretch," said 
Ranee ; but Owen was as calm as a clam, and rode forth 
in silence, accompanied by his body-guard. Kitty 
danced and fluno; her head, as though she knew some 
test of her quality was about to be made. At the en- 
trance to the track Lincoln and Ranee halted, and Owen 
rode into the track alone, his head bare, his shirt-sleeyes 
gleaming. 

Five or six boys, on all kinds of ponies, were already 
riding aimlessly up and down before the judges' stand. 
Four of them were town boys, who wore white-visored 
caps and well-fitting jackets. The fifth was a tall, sandy- 
haired lad in brown overalls and a checked shirt. He 
rode a " gauming " sorrel colt, with a bewildering series 
of gaits, and he was followed up and down the track by 
a tall, roughly dressed man and a slatternly girl of 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 341 

thirteen or fourteen, who repeated each of the old man's 
orders. 

" Hold him up a little ! " shouted the father. 

" Hold him up a little" repeated the girl. 

" Let him out a grain ! " 

" Let him out a grain." 

" Set up a little." 

" Set up a little." 

This was immensely entertaining to the crowd, but 
interfered with the race, so the Marshal was forced to 
come down and order them both from the track. This 
was a grateful relief to the boy, who was already hot 
with rebellion. 

The bell's clangor called all the boys before the 
grand stand, and the Judge said : — 

"Now, boys, we want you to ride up and down past 
us, for a few turns. Don't crowd each other, and don't 
hurry, and do your prettiest." 

A single tap of the bell, and the boys were off at a 
gallop. The town boys, on their fat little ponies, 
cantered along smoothly, but Kitty, excited by the noise 
and the people, forced Owen to lay his weight against 
the bit, which didn't look well. Sandy was all over the 
track with his colt, pounding up and down like a dollar's 
worth of tenpenny nails in a wheelbarrow. He could 
ride, all the same, and his face was resolute and alert. 

As they turned to come back, Kitty took the bit in 
her teeth and went round the other horses with a wild 
dash, and the swing of Owen's body at this moment 
betrayed the natural rider; but he was only a bare- 



34^ Boy Life on the Prairie 

headed farmer's son, and the judges were looking at 
Frank Simpson, the banker's boy, and Ned Baker, Dr. 
Baker's handsome nephew. Their ponies were accus- 
tomed to crowds and to the track and to each other, 
while evervthing was strange to Sandy's colt and to 
fiery little Kitty. 

0\yen did not see his father and mother, but Lincoln 
and Ranee kept near the entrance, and each time he 
came to the turn they had a word of encouragement. 

As the boys came under the wire the third time, the 
Judge said : — 

"When you turn again, go round the track — and 
don't race," he said as an afterthought. 

At every turn Kitty whirled in ahead as if rounding a 
herd, swift as a wolf, a bright gleam in her eye, her ears 
pointing. What all this see-sawing back and forth 
meant, she could not tell, but she was ready for any- 
thing whatever. 

The town boys came about in a bunch, with Owen 
close behind and Sandy over at one side, sawing at his 
colt's open jaw, while his father yelled instructions over 
the fence. 

" I/ET HIM GO, SON ! " 

" Let him go^ son" repeated the girl. 

As they passed under the wire, some wag on the 
stand tapped the bell, and hundreds of voices yelled, — 

" Go ! " 

The boys forgot previous warnings. Plying whip 
and spur, they swept down the track, all in a bunch, 
except Sandy, who was a length behind. 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 343 

" Where's Owen ? " asked Ranee. 

"Wait a minute," replied Lincoln. "He'll show up 
soon." As he spoke, the white sleeves of Owen's shirt 
flashed into sight ahead of the crowd. The bay mare 
was a beautiful sight then. She ran low like a wolf. 
Her long tail streamed in the air, and her abundant 
mane, rising in waves, almost hid the boy's face. He 
no longer leaned ungracefully. Erect and at his ease, 
he seemed to float on the air, and when at intervals he 
looked back to see where his rivals were, Lincoln 
laughed. 

" Oh, catch him, will you ? Let's see you do it. 
Noiv where are your fancy riders ? " 

The slick ponies fell behind, and Sandy, yelling and 
plying the "bud," came on, the only possible competitor. 
He gained on Kitty, for Owen had not yet urged her to 
her best. As he rounded the turn and saw that the colt 
was gaining, he brought the flat of his hand down on 
Kitty's shoulder with a shrill whoop, — and the colt 
gained no more ! As he swept under the wire at full 
speed, the boy had on his face the look of a Cheyenne 
lad, a look of calm exultation, and his seat in the saddle 
was that of the born horseman. Lincoln's heart was 
big with pride. 

" He's won it ! He's won it sure ! " 

When the red ribbon was put to Simpson's bridle, a 
groan went up from hundreds of spectators. 

"Aw, no. The other one — the bare-headed boy ! " 

" Stewart ! " 

" Sandy ! " 



344 ^^Y Life on the Prairie 

A crowd gathered around the Judges, and Mr. Stew- 
art and Mr. Jennings joined it. Talk was plainly in 
Owen's favor. 

"This is favoritism," protested Mr. Jennings. "Any- 
body can ride those trained town ponies. The decision 
lies between MacElroy's son and Owen Stewart. Put 
your slick little gentlemen on those two horses, and see 
how they will go through." 

The crowd grew denser each moment, and Kitty was 
led through up to the Judges as they stood arguing. 
Owen did not know what it was all about, except that 
he had not won the prize. 

The Judge argued : " We were not deciding a race. 
The specifications were ' displaying most grace and skill 
at horsemanship.' " 

*' How you going to decide ? You can't do it without 
a change of horses. Owen will ride any horse you 
bring him. Will your natty little men ride the bay 
mare and the sorrel colt ? " 

MacElroy and his daughter, by this time, had fought 
their way through the crowd. 

" This ain't no fair shake. I wouldn't a minded 
your givin' it to the feller on the bay mare, but them 
little rockin'-horse ponies — why, a suckin' goose can 
ride one of them." 

"Now this is my opinion," said one of the Judges. 
" I voted for the first prize to go to Stewart, the second 
prize to MacElroy, and let 'cm change horses and see 
what they can do." 

" That's fair. That's right," said several bystanders. 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 345 

The third Judge went on : " But^ I was out-voted. 
Mine is a minority report, and can't stand." 

The Chairman remained firm, notwithstanding all pro- 
tests, but the second Judge, who was a candidate for 
election to the position of County Treasurer, became 
alarmed. He called Beeman aside, and after a moment's 
talk the Chairman said : — 

"Mr. Middleton, having decided to vote with Mr, 
Scott, we have to announce that the first prize will go 
as before to Master Simpson, the second to Master 
Stewart, and the third to Master MacElroy, and this 
is final." 

Returning to his stand, he rang the bell sharply, and 
again announced the decision, which was cheered in a 
mild sort of way. 

"Clear the track for the Free-for-all running race — 
best two in three." 

Lincoln helped Owen put the fine new bridle on Kitty 
without joy, for young Simpson was riding about the 
grounds on the saddle which almost every one said should 
be Owen's. 

Sandy rode up, the white ribbon tied to his sorrel's 
bridle, a friendly grin on his face. 

"I say, your horse can run five or six a minute, can't 
she ? " 

And Owen, who counted the bridle clear gain, and 
held no malice, said : — 

" I was scared one while, when I saw your old Sorrel 
a-comin'. Fm dry. Le's go have some lemonade. 
Link, hold our horses." 



346 Boy Life on the Prairie 

And they drank, Owen standing treat with all the 
airs of a successful candidate for senatorial honors. 

" Get out your horses for the four-year-old sweep- 
stakes," shouted the Marshal as he rode down the track. 
" Bring out your horses." 

The boys put down their glasses hastily. " Oh, let's 
see that," said Owen. 

" Let's climb the fence," suggested Ranee, indicating 
the high board fence which enclosed the ground, on 
whose perilous edge rows of boys were already sitting 
like blackbirds. From this coign of vantage they could 
*■*■ sass " anybody going, even the Marshal, for at last 
extremity it was possible to fall off the fence on the 
outside and escape. Here all the loud-voiced wags were 
stationed, and their comical phrases called forth hearty 
laughter from time to time, though they became a nui- 
sance before the races were over. They reached the top 
of the fence by two convenient knotTholes, which formed 
toe-holes, and the big fellows then pulled the smaller 
ones after them. 

It was a hard seat, but the race-course was entirely 
under the eye, and no one grumbled. 

The boys were no sooner perched in readiness for the 
race than the Marshal came riding down the track, 
shouting. As he drew near, Owen heard his name 
called. 

" Is Owen Stewart here ? " 

" Yes ! " shouted Lincoln, for Owen was too much 
astonished to reply. 

*' Here he is," called a dozen \oices. 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 347 

The Marshal rode up : " You're wanted at the Judges' 
Stand," he said. " Come along." 

" Go ahead," said Lincoln, and as Owen hesitated, he 
climbed down himself. " Come on, I'll go with you. 
It's something more about the prize." 

Owen sprang from the fence like a cat, at the thought 
that perhaps the Judges had reconsidered their verdict, 
and were going to give him the saddle, after all. 

The other boys, seeing Owen going up the track be- 
side the Marshal, also became excited, and a comical 
craning of necks took place all along the fence. 

" Here's your boy," said the Marshal, as he reached 
the Judges' Stand. 

" Come up here, son," called the Judge, and Owen 
climbed up readily, for he saw his father up there beside 
the Judge. 

A tall and much excited man took him by the shoul- 
ders and hustled him before a long-whiskered man, who 
seemed to be boss of the whole Fair. 

" Will this boy answer ? " 

The Judge looked Owen over slowly, and finally lifted 
him by putting his hands under his arms, then he asked 
his weight of Mr. Stewart. The answer was satisfactory. 

" Now, my boy, you are to ride this man's horse in 
the race, because his own boy is too light. Do you 
think you can handle a race-horse ? " 

" Yes, sir," replied Owen, sturdily. 

" All right, sir, if his father is willing, I can mount 
your horse." 

As they went down the stairs, Mr. Mills, the owner 



348 Boy Life on the Prairie 

of the running horse " Gvpsy," said : " You needn't be 
afraid. When once she's off, ' Gyp ' is perfectly safe." 

" I don't think he's afraid," remarked Mr. Stewart, 
quietly. " You tell him what you want him to do, and 
he .1 do it." 

" Now there are two horses," Mills explained as he 
got opportunity. " The bald-faced sorrel don't cut any 
figger — but the black, the Ansgor horse, is sure to get 
away first — for Gypsy is freaky at the wire. You will 
get away a couple of lengths behind, but don't worry 
about that — don't force the mare till you come around 
the last turn." 

At the barn Owen took off his coat and hat while 
they led out the horse, a beautiful little bay mare, with 
delicate, slender legs, and a brown eye full of fire. The 
saddle was a low racing pad, and as they swung the boy 
to his seat, the mare began to rear and dance, as if she 
were a piece of watch-spring. 

A thrill of jov and of mastery swept over the boy as 
he grasped the reins in his strong brown hands. It was 
worth while to feel such a horse under him. 

"Let down my stirrups," he commanded. "I can't 
ride with my knees up there." 

They let down his stirrups, and then with Mills 
holding the excited colt by the bit, he rode down the 
wire. 

Gypsy's peculiarity was that she could be started at 
the wire only by facing her the other way, and it took 
both Mills and the hostler to hold her. At the tap of 
the bell, each time, the mare reared and whirled like a 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 349 

mad horse, and Mrs. Stewart trembled with fear of her 
son's hfe. Lincohi was near her, and said, " Don't 
worry, mother ; he's all right." 

Twice a false start was made, and the horses were 
called back. The third time they were off, the black 
in the lead, the sorrel next, the bay last. As Gypsy 
settled smoothly to her work, Owen had time to think 
of his instructions. Just before him was the black, 
running swiftly and easily, and he felt that Gypsy could 
pass him. At the turn he loosened the reins and leaned 
to the outside, intending to pass, but the jockey on the 
black pulled in front of him. He then swung the bay 
to the left to pass on the inside of the track, but again 
the jockey cut in ahead, and looking back with a vicious 
smile said, " No, you don't ! " It was " Freckles," and 
the recognition took the resolution out of Owen, and 
before he could devise a plan to pass they rushed under 
the wire, Gypsy a length behind. 

Mills was much excited and threatened to break the 
jockey's head, — and asked that he be taken off the 
track, — but the Judges decided that Gypsy had not 
been fouled. Mills then filled Owen's ears with advice, 
but all the boy said was : " He won't do that again. 
Don't you worry." He was angry, too. 

At the second start they got away as before, except 
the sorrel ran for a long time side by side with Gypsy. 
The two boys could talk quite easily as the horses ran 
smoothly, steadily, and the jockey on the sorrel said : — 

" Don't let him jockey you. Pass him on the back 
stretch, when he ain't lookin'." 



350 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Owen awain loosened the rein, and the bay mare shot 
by the sorrel and abreast of the black. Again the jockey 
cut him off, but Owen pulled sharply to the left, intend- 
ing to pass next the pole. For the first time he struck 
the mare, and she leaped like a wolf to a position at the 
flank of the black. Freckles pulled viciously in crowd- 
ing his horse against the mare, intending to force Owen 
ao-ainst the fence and throw him ; but the boy held his 
mare strongly by the right rein, and threw himself oyer 
on his saddle with his right knee on the horse's back, 
uttering a shrill cry as he did so. In first leap the 
mare was clear of the black, and went sailing down 
the track, an easy winner — without another stroke of 
the whip. 

He now had a clear idea of his horse's powers, and 
though he got away last, as before, he put Gypsy to 
her best and passed the black at once, and taking the 
pole, he held it without striking a blow or uttering a 
word, though the black tried twice to pass. The spec- 
tators roared with delight, to see the round-faced boy 
sitting erect, with the reins in his left hand, his shirt- 
sleeves fluttering, come sweeping down the inside course, 
the black far behind and laboring hard. 

There was something distinctly comic in Owen's 
way of looking behind him to see where his ri\al 
was. 

Mills pulled him from the horse in his delight, and 
put an extra five dollars in his hand. " I'll give you ten 
dollars to ride Gypsy at Independence," he said, 

"All right," said Owen, 



Owen Rides at the County Fair 351 

But his parents firmly said, " No, this ends it. We 
don't want him to do any more of this kind of work." 

Swiftly the sun fell to the west, and while the dealers 
and showmen redoubled their outcries in hopes to close 
out their stocks, the boys began to think of going home. 
Out along the fences where the men were hitching up 
the farm-teams, the women stood in groups for a last 
exchange of greetings. The children, tired, dusty, 
sticky with candies, pulled at their skirts. The horses, 
eager to be off, pranced under the tightening reins. 
The dust rose under their hoofs, whips cracked, good- 
bys passed from lip to lip, and so, in a continuous 
stream the farm-wagons passed out of the gate, to 
diverge like the lines of a spider's web, rolling on in the 
cool, red sunset, on through the dusk, on under the 
luminous half-moon, till silent houses in every part of 
the country bloomed with light and stirred with the 
bustle of home-comers from a day's vacation at the 
Fair. 

Lincoln and Owen slipped off their new suits and 
resumed their hickory shirts and overalls and went out 
to milk the cows and feed the pigs, while Mrs. Stewart 
skimmed the milk and made tea for supper. The boys 
had no holiday to look forward to till Thanksgiving 
came, and that was not really a holiday, for it came after 
the beginning of school. 

Next morning, long before light, they rose to milk 
cows and curry horses again, and at sunrise the boys 
went forth upon the land to plough. 




CHAPTER XXIII 



A CHAPTER ON PRAIRIE GAME 



Lincoln Stewart, like other boys in Sun Prairie, 
had the ambition to be a successful hunter and early 
became a \ery good wing-shot. As the harvest drew 
to a close, and even while it was going on, he brought 
many prairie chickens to the house. The broods at this 
time were about two-thirds grown and made very tempt- 
ing dishes. Ranee Knapp never hunted them. He had 
a queer notion that they were too innocent and helpless 
to shoot. He never would kill a tame chicken for his 
sisters, and refused to have any hand in the cock-fight- 
ing which Milton and the other boys arranged for. 

It is not easy to kill prairie chickens if you are a boy 
of twelve and have no dog to find them for you. Lin- 
coln kept his gun handy in the field during harvesting 
and stocking, and whenever a covey was accidentally put 
up he marked the place where they settled, in order to 
return to them with his gun. He could seldom get 
more than two shots, for his gun was a muzzle-loader, 
and besides, a covey put up bv the hunter is apt to move 
all at once, whereas with a good dt)g thcv can be put up 
singly or in twos and threes. 

352 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 353 

For the first year or two Lincoln was obliged to trust 
to luck or to his skill in calling them. He could not 
lift the heavy gun quick enough to shoot on the wing, 
and so having scattered a covey he crouched in ambush 
and waited. 

The little ones have vanished like a handful of sand. 
One after the other they have dropped into the deeps of 
the tangled oats. Lincoln lies in the edge of corn, 
watching, listening. The smell of ripe grain is in the 
air, the beards of the uncut barley shine like burnished 
gold. The corn speaks huskily now and then as if in 
warning to the helpless birds. The sun is sinking redly 
to the west. All is peaceful, fruitful, serene. 

Now faint and far away comes a little wailing whistle, 
a pathetic, sweet, down-falling cry, lonely, full of tears. 
Nothing could be more helpless, more pleading, than this 
sob of the baby grouse far away in the gloomy oat- 
forest. 

Lincoln repeats the note : Pee-ee-00-on ! phee-oo-oiv ! 

One by one, near and far, the note is taken up, and 
the brood begins to return to the place from which it 
flew, and out of the edge of the corn, not far away, the 
mother-bird steps, and, standing there for a moment lis- 
tening, begins to utter a low, clucking call : " Come^ my 
dears^ come^ come^ come! All is well-ll-ll — very well — 
verrrry well — n(rw — now — nffw — come to me — coine 
to fue^ come ! " 

It is evidence of the terrible power of the instinct to 
kill, that Lincoln's fingers tingle with the desire to pull 
the trigger, but he waits while the little ones assemble, 



354 -^oy ^^^^ o^"^ ^^^ Prairie 

in order to be the more murderous. In his heart a strug- 
gle is going on. He feels that this faithful and gentle 
mother should go free — and vet the primitive hunter in 
him cries out for game. One by one the pleading voices 
fall silent as thev see the mother, and at last only one 
is left wandering in the jungle. 

Lincoln lifts the muzzle of his gun, and takes aim — 
the watchful mother sees it, and with loud flutter flies 
away ; the little ones squat in the stubble, duck low, 
and scatter again, and the boy finds a certain element 
of relief mingled with his disappointment. Next time 
he will be quicker on the trigger. 

By the time he was thirteen he became able to shoot 
on the wing. He missed a great manv, but managed, 
after all, to bring down a bird now and then. He never 
had a dog of his own, but occasionallv he went out with 
Sam Hutchison, who had a big liver-and-white pointer 
named Growler. It was a great pleasure to see the work 
of this well-trained animal. With nose in the wind he 
lopes over the stubble or along the edge of a swale, swift 
and certain. Suddenly he stops short, with his head at 
ritrht ann-les with his bodv, and feels the air. Then, 
turning on his hind feet as on a pivot, with tail levelled, 
he follows the scent as a sailor takes in a rope. His 
feet rise and fall like the cranks on a machine, his head 
is held to the wind, poised, horizontal, without motion. 
His master knows everv sign of his dog. He can tell 
bv the wav he puts down his feet how fiir awav the 
game is, whether it is a covey or only a single 
bird. 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 355 

Now the dog stops, rigid as bronze, one hind foot 
hfted and held. He is upon them. 

" Down, Growler," calls Sam. 

The noble fellow sinks into the grass softly as melting 
wax. If need be, he will hold the birds for an hour 
without moving. 

The hunters approach rapidly till within shooting 
distance, and then, with weapons ready, move alertly 
forward. 

"Put 'em up, boy — steady, now ! " calls Sam. 

The dog rises as slowly as he sank. He lifts one 
forefoot and puts it before him, pushing himself, inch 
by Inch, upon the birds. 

IVhirr-rr — bang ! 

The first bird falls, and the dog waits for orders. 
Sam reloads, while Growler waits immovably. 

" Go on, boy ! " 

Another rises and falls, then two who escape, then six, 
and two fall. The faithful dog again waits while his 
master reloads. He seems to know precisely what is 
wanted of him. When all are ready, he begins again to 
move, and, nosing the warm nests where the birds were 
squatted, begins to search for scattered ones, while the 
hunters follow within shooting distance. At last he 
points out the ones that have fallen, and begins once 
more to range the field. 

Lincoln always liked the pointer best, he was so much 
nobler in his action than the setter, who wiggled and 
wormed among the weeds and grasses with great pains 
and little dignity. The pointer covered so much more 



356 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ground in so little time. He made so many splendid 
and dramatic pictures as he stopped, crouched, rose, felt 
his way to his quarry. He added something worth while 
to a sport which needed the aesthetic badly. The setter 
seemed less clearly specialized for the sport. The pointer 
had almost no other uses. He was not a house-dog, 
knew nothing about retrieving, would not chase a pig, 
ate enormously, had dim eyes, and altogether was a ma- 
chine constructed for certain uses, and when driving to 
his purpose was a glorious piece of mechanism — for 
the rest he either slept, or pleaded for food. 

With all that could trim and decorate chicken shooting, 
Lincoln could not escape a feeling of remorse whenever 
he saw a young bird lying limp and bloody at his feet. 
They were so pretty and so helpless, and at last he came 
to Ranee's conclusion, it was not sport, and he went no 
more to the killing. 

He had less feeling about ducks and geese — perhaps 
because they were migratory and he did not see them 
nest and breed. The ducks came back each fall in 
enormous flocks, settling at night on the stubble-fields 
to feed, but they were wary — not so vigilant as the 
geese, but so difficult of approach that it was only at 
the expense of long, wearisome creepings through the 
dusk that the boys were able to get within shooting 
distance ; and when they rose they were like a storm, a 
great, roaring, dark mass lit by sudden gleams of white 
as they turned. Occasionall\- in this way a brace or two 
were secured. 

At other times, by hiding near a feeding-place, by 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 357 



digging a pit and covering it with sheaves of grain or 
bundles of grass, Lincoln was able to carry home a 
greenhead or a teal or two. His mother had a preju- 
dice against ducks and never liked to cook them, and, 
in truth, they never tasted very good, and for this reason, 
perhaps, the boys were less eager to kill a duck than a 
goose. 

Geese and cranes appealed to them as worth killing 
because they were so big, so strong, and so wary. The 
wild goose is not a foolish bird. He is, on the contrary. 




a wise and skilful and 
circumspect fowl. His 
voice, capable of enor- 
mous signalling power 
and subtle alarm, is a glorious addition to the sounds 
of the plain. In April he stirs the heart with thoughts 
of spring — in autumn he makes the settler shiver with 
sudden remembrance that winter is coming. 

All wild geese are well led and well governed. They 
camp like the redmen, with sentries posted, and no alien 
sound escapes their notice. They know the difference 
between the movement of a browsing cow and the creep- 



358 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ing approach of a hunter. The steps of the wolf and 
the fox are distinguished and announced. When on 
the wing they avoid all dwellings of men, or go by at 
a height which renders them safe. In all ways they 
seemed wise and watchful birds to Lincoln. 

He never shot but one goose in all his life. Many 
times he crept through the wet stubble — crawling on 
his elbows and knees for a full half-mile, onlv to fail of 
even a shot at the flock as it rose. 

He dug pits and laid in the muddy bottom thereof, 
till he was stiff with cold, all to no purpose. Their 
watchful eyes detected some movement, the gleam of a 
weapon or some sign of danger, — and the leader, utter- 
ing a loud honk, swerved suddenly aside, and thev passed 
on. 

Bryant's stately and imaginative poem on the wild 
goose was a great favorite with Lincoln. He loved the 
march of those lines — 

** Vainly the fowler's eye 
Doth mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong. 
As darkly painted on the crimson sky 
Thy figure floats along." 

There was something grand in these great migrating 
birds. No one the boy had ever questioned had been 
far enough north to find their breeding-places by "the 
plashy brink or marge of river wide, or where the rock- 
ing billows rise and sink, on the chafed ocean's side." 
Their very flight was poetry, and the wild goose was 
never a jest among them. 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 359 

The hired man one spring winged one with his rifle 
and gave him to Lincoln, who clipped his pinions and 
kept him alive, a sullen captive. With head held high, 
he moved slowly about his corral, his eyes forever on 
the sky, and when he saw a file of his people pushing to 
the north, he shook his mutilated wings and shouted like 
a captive chief. At such times Lincoln had a momen- 
tary wish to set him free — perhaps would have done so 
only for the bird's helplessness. After the geese had all 
passed north the captive sank into silent endurance of 
his lot, — uttering no sound except just before a storm, — 
then rising lightly on his feet and beating his great wings, 
he cried resoundingly to the heavens. Perhaps he was 
thinking of the splendid storms which used to sweep over 
his northern lake. Perhaps he acted instinctively as a 
foreboding seer. 

One day in autumn when the wind was cold and 
swift from the north, a flock of returning geese came 
swinging aslant on the blast, hastening southward. As 
they came, " old Honk " became visibly excited. He 
fixed his eyes upon the far-off harrow in the clouds, 
and as its gabble reached his ear, he spread his wings 
and uttered a peculiar, vibrant note — a cry that was at 
once an alarum and a command. 

The others answered, and the leader swerved a little 
in his course. Again the captive spoke, and the leader 
came round still more, making almost direct course over 
the barn-yard. Lincoln, seeing their coming, ran for 
his gun, but before he reached the house, the captive 
bird started upon a waddling run, beating the air with 



360 Boy Life on the Prairie 

his wings. To his own surprise, he rose in the air and 
sailed over the fence. The wind got under him, he 
rose like a blown garment, uncertainly, and as he steadied 
himself, his voice rang exultantly. The flock, circling 
laboriously, seemed to wait for him ; he took his place 
at the rear of the long arm of the harrow — the leader 
cried, "O;/, o« / " and the captive was a free courser of 
the air once more. 

The best hunters killed few of the geese. Sometimes 
with a rifle they picked one out of a flock in the fields. 
Sometimes by stalking behind a cow they came within 
gun-shot, and when the birds chanced to be sitting in 
the open, the hunters were able to dash up with a team 
within shooting distance before the lumbering fowls 
could get fairly on the wing. 

Lincoln never killed a crane — in fact, he never tried 
to do so. They interested him profoundly. Their 
shadowy, awkward forms perched in a row beside some 
pool at dusk, their comical dances on a hillock in the 
morning, but especially their majestic flight, made them 
the most mysterious and splendid of all birds of the 
plain. They could be tamed, for Sam Hutchison had 
one nearly all summer. It stalked about, calmly in- 
specting all things with its round, expressionless eyes, 
as if to say, " This is a curious world — I'll stop for a 
while and look into it." 

It had a dangerous habit of picking at shining things, — 
buttons, buckles, rings, and the baby's eyes, — and Sam 
killed it one day just after it had nearly blinded his little 
two-year-old girl. He tried to eat the dead bird, but 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 361 

confessed that he didn't like it worth a cent. " I'd as 
soon eat prairie hay," he said, when Lincoln inquired 
about it. 

There were quails in the woodlands of the Maple 
and Cedar rivers, and partridges also, but the boys sel- 
dom secured more than one or two partridges — they 
were difficult to shoot on the wing, and without a dog 
it was nearly impossible to find them. Rabbits were 
thick, and Mrs. Stewart had occasion very often to 
make a pot-pie of these "jumping hens," as Uncle 
Billy Frazier called them. As he entered the maple 
woodlands, all the woodcraft he had unconsciously 
acquired as a child, came back to Lincoln. He could 
tell the difference between the tracks of various kinds of 
mice and moles and squirrels. He knew by the rabbit's 
footprints whether he had been feeding, or walking 
abroad, or fleeing in fear. He was able to distinguish 
the barking of the red squirrel from the gray, and knew 
the habits of the white owl and the partridge, as well as 
the quails — and yet, for all this, he was a poor hunter. 
Ranee generally shot all the rabbits, while Lincoln 
talked with the blue jays, or walked around a tree to 
see a gray squirrel hide himself behind the trunk, or 
followed him as he traced out his aerial trail along the 
horizontal branches of the oaks. Neither of the boys 
were really dissatisfied to return without game ; each 
considered the day in the woods profitable, even if no 
rabbit or partridge dangled at their belts. 

Once they wandered all day in a November drizzle 
which froze on the trees till they were heavy with superb 



262 Boy Life on the Prairie 

armoring. Toward night the sky cleared with a warm 
western wind, and the heavily laden branches cracked 
and sroaned, shakino; their glitterino; burden down on 
the leafy ground, till the air was filled with a patter as 
of flying fairy feet. Not one creature did the boys kill 
that day — they tramped on and on, feeling the charm 
of nature in this singular mood, not talking much, con- 
tent to mix and be a part of the universal mystery, 
passing thoughtfully from the rustling ranks of the red 
oaks to the silence of maple ridges, where only the voice 
of some weary branch broke the silence. Lincoln had 
a delicious sense of being deep in the wilderness — like 
" Leather Stocking," whose solitary life he loved. 

Ranee was an indefatigable listener, and Lincoln was 
sometimes a voluble talker, though he could be silent 
as a cat in the woods. It made little difference to Ranee 
which mood his companion was in ; he remained the 
same unsmiling, almost taciturn youth. 

They shot their rabbits on the run when they could, 
because it was more sportsmanlike. The clearings 
where the heaped brush lay unburned and roofed with 
snow was the best hunting-ground. Softly approaching 
these coverts, the boys leaped upon them suddenly, taking 
the rabbits on foot as they fled to other shelter. They 
missed a great many, but succeeded from time to time in 
bagging one, and this one was worth a dozen shot stand- 
ing. Squirrels they seldom cared to carry home, but 
occasionally roasted them at a camp-fire in the woods at 
noon. 

As they grew older and wiser, they considered all the 



A Chapter on Prairie Game 



3(^3 



game of the prairie too small, and they ceased to hunt. 
They talked of grizzly bears and buffaloes and panthers 
and cougars. One day in Lincoln's fourteenth year he 
reached a decision. " I kill no more hens and cats," he 
said, meaning prairie chickens and rabbits. " Anybody 
can go out and kill these things. When I go hunting 
now, it's got to be wolves or foxes or bears and buffaloes ; 
now you hear me." 

"Let's make a compact," said Ranee. "Four years 
from now we meet on the plains." 

". Done ! " shouted Lincoln, in the terms of the pirate's 
usual oath. 

But as they knitted their fingers together and swore, 
there was a smile in Ranee's eyes. He had a suspicion 
then that neither of them would ever get out of Cedar 
County. 




NOVEMBER 

When the ground squirrel toils at gathering wheat, 
And the wood-dove's sombre notes repeat 
The story of autumn's passing feet ; 

When the cold, gray sky has a rushing breeze 
Which hums in the grass like a hi\c of bees, 
And scatters the leaves from the roaring trees ; 

When the corn is filled with a rising moon. 
And the gray crane flies on his course alone, 
Hastening south to the orange zone; — 

Then the boy on the bare, brown prairie knows 
That winter is coming with drifting snows 
To cover the grave of the dry, dead rose. 
364 



CHAPTER XXIV 



VISITING SCHOOLS 



In some way, and for some educational purpose no 
doubt, there had grown up a custom of visiting schools. 
Whatever the obscure origin of this custom, the visits 
were considered red-letter days by the boys and the 
girls. The first invasion came as a complete surprise 
to Lincoln at least. 

One beautiful warm sunny day in midwinter — a 
Friday it was — he sat humped over his spelling-book, 
with his thumb in his ears, oblivious to the outside world, 
and quite the last scholar to hear the sound of bells in 
furious clash, accompanied by the clamor of many 
voices in merry outcry, as two long bob-sleighs, packed 
to the brim with boys and girls, dashed round the cor- 
ner, and drew up before the door with a royal flourish. 

The room was instantly in disorder. Excitable girls 
began to giggle, shock-haired boys sprang to their feet 
in defiance of rule, and crowded around the windows. 
The teacher hurriedly smoothed his hair and dusted the 
dandruff^ from his coat-collar, while loud knocking on 
the door shook his nerves. At last he sternly said : 
" Be seated ! Take your seats again ! " 

In silent, delicious excitement the scholars returned 
365 



^66 Bov Life on the Prairie 

to their places, and with eyes like onions waited the 
coming of the visitors. 

" It's the Grove School," said Ranee to Lincoln. The 
teacher, bowing and smiling his suavest, opened the 
door and invited his visitors to enter, with such show 
of hearty hospitality as a man in his situation could 
command. His collar was soiled, and he wore a long 
linen duster to keep the chalk of the blackboard from 
his black suit. 

The visiting teacher led his tumultuous host with 
smilino; dio;nitv. The bis; sirls came first, in knitted 
hoods and cloth cloaks, their cheeks red with the touch 
of the keen wind — their eyes shining with excitement. 
Thev took seats with the girls thev knew, crowding 
three in a seat. The boys followed, awkward as colts, 
homely as shoats, snuffling, slyly crowding each other, 
and every one of them grinning constrainedly. Thev 
stood around the stove until the master pointed out 
seats for them. At last they were all settled, and nearly 
every seat held three explosive youngsters, ready for a 
guffaw or a trick of any kind. 

The visiting master was well known as the music 
teacher of the township and a \'iolinist. He was a 
small man, with a long beard and a pleasant hazel eye. 
His name was Robert Mason Jasper, but for some 
reason was always spoken of as "R. M. Jasper," not 
Mister or Robert or Bob, but " R. M." He beamed 
over the school with most genial good nature as he took 
a seat beside his host. It was plain he liked young 
people, and that they liked him. 



Visiting Schools 367 

To Lincoln the whole world had changed. The 
monotonous routine was broken up. The crowded 
seats, the lovely big girls from the Grove, the wiggling 
boys of his own age, the temporary relenting of rigid 
discipline, — all of these were inexpressibly potent and 
significant. He could not fix his thoughts upon his 
book though the master said, — 

" Give attention to books now ! " Nobody really 
studied for a moment. The big girls wrote notes, and 
the big boys slyly chewed tobacco and whispered openly, 
while Milton put his fingers to the tip of his nose till it 
turned up, and threw his handsome face into shape like 
Sim Bagley, whose eyes were crossed, and who had a 
habit of winking very fast. These performances threw 
Shep Warren and one or two other boys into paroxysms 
of laughter, which the master made perfunctory efforts 
to reprove. Hum Bunn had bored a hole through his 
desk, and by use of a pen-stock and a pen was able to 
startle one of the Angell boys. 

There was very little reciting, for the teacher dared 
call only on his readiest and most self-contained pupils. 
The dullards had nothing to do but visit till the after- 
noon recess, which came early and lasted a long time. 
Then with a wild rush the boys broke into freedom. 
The two schools joined at once in friendly rivalry. The 
wrestlers grappled, the small boys fell into games of 
" stink gool," or " crack-the-whip," or divided into 
hostile legions, and snowballed each other with the 
fury of opposing tribes of savage men. 

Some few of the big boys and girls remained in the 



368 Boy Life on the Prairie 

school-house and flirted openly with each other, which 
Lincoln considered rather soft, and Ben viciously said : 
" I'd like to soak Bill Hatfield with a hard snowball." 

Ranee shone gloriously in the games. His lithe, 
supple body, his swift limbs, his skill in dodging and 
wrestling, filled Lincoln's heart with admiration. He 
led the games round to those in which his chum ex- 
celled, such as " skinning the cat " and " chinning a 
pole," which tested the strength of the arms and shoul- 
ders. Ranee could chin a pole nearly twice as many 
times as the strongest boy from Oak Grove. His 
muscles were like woven wire, and his skin as white 
as a girl's. The boys already man-grown found him so 
agile and so elusive that they were eager to grapple with 
him. They could crush him to the ground, but they 
could not put him on his back and hold him there. 
He shrewdly refused to wrestle " bear hug," or " side- 
holt," but was quite ready to meet any of them in 
" catch-as-catch-can." 

Metellus Soper considered himself the " champion " 
of the Grove School. He was only eighteen, but stood 
five-feet-eleven in his stocking feet, and counted himself 
a man at e\ery point. He could lift one wheel of a 
separator, and throw a sledge as far as any man in the 
township except Lime Gilman. At bear hug he could 
down any youth in his school, and none of the Sun 
Prairie boys cared to face him. They laughingly said, 
in answer to his in\ itation : " Go away. I don't 
want an\' truck with you." 

At last Ben Hutchison consented to a "side holt," 



Visiting Schools 369 

which was his choice. He flung Mett within the first 
minute, and the Sun Prairie boys howled with joy. 
They became silent again when Soper rose white with 
fury, but outwardly calm. 

" We'll try that again," he said menacingly. 

" Guess I'll stop while my credit's good," Ben 
laughingly replied. 

" You try that again, or fight." 

Ben was no coward. " Oh, all right — but play fair." 

Soper was clearly the master, and as he put Ben on 
his back twice out of three times, his anger cooled. 
Looking round, he singled out Ranee. 

" I want to take a whirl with you," he said. 

Lincoln cried out, "Oh, take some one of your size," 
and a number of the others supported him. 

Ranee stepped out. " I'll take you, rough and 
tumble," he said quietly. 

" Any way 't all," replied Soper, complacently. 

Lincoln was numb with excitement as he saw his 
hero facing his big and savage antagonist, but he knew 
the marvellous resources of that slender body, better than 
any one else in the world, and had no fear so long as 
Metellus wrestled. 

With a confident rush Metellus opened the bout, but 
in the clinch found himself clawing Ranee's humped 
shoulders, and hopping about on one foot, and an in- 
stant later was hurled into the air, to fall on his shoulder, 
with his cheek in the snow. 

" Put him on his back ! " shouted Lincoln. 

Ranee himself had slipped, and could not follow up 

2B 



2JO Boy Life on the Prairie 

his advantage. Soper turned his face to the earth, and 
was rising on his hands when Ranee sprang upon him 
Hke a leopard. He was too light to hold the big fellow 
down. Soper rose, taking Ranee with him, and reaching 
round, seized him by the leg, and little by little worked 
his long arms around his waist and flung him by main 
force. Ranee landed on his hands and knees, with the 
big fellow on his back. Soper's face was sneering and 
confident. He had nothing else to do now but turn 
Ranee on his breast. This was not so easy as he 
thought. Again and again he lifted the boy, but some- 
way couldn't manage him. He could crush him flat 
against the ground, he could slide him and twist him and 
double him up, but he could not put both shoulders 
to the ground at the same time. His face grew set and 
ferocious again. 

"Damn your slippery hide, I'll smash ye ! " 

" Go fair now," warned the boys. 

Soper lay sprawling out to hold Ranee down, while 
he devised some plan of action. Ranee, looking up, 
saw Lincoln and smiled. For five minutes he had been 
worried by the big bully, but he was not merely unan- 
gered, he was laughing. Lincoln's heart leaped with 
pride in him. The crowd complained. 

" Aw ! Go ahead, Mett, don't lay there and tire him 
all out. That ain't rastlin'." 

Ranee, with a swift, sidewise movement, eluded the 
grip of his antagonist, and throwing his right arm around 
his neck, drew his head under till his bones cracked. 
Soper uttered a snarl and tried to rise. He tossed 



Visiting Schools 371 

Ranee aside, but always the lad was on top. Now with 
both hands clasped around his middle and his belly bend- 
ing Soper's neck to the ground, now swarming over his 
back, with legs stiffly resisting all efforts to draw him 
under. Soper rose twice, but Ranee went with him 
with the under-hold, and threw him again on his hands, 
but could not turn him on his back, and Soper was 
equally unable to draw him under. 

The wild yells of the boys brought everybody out of 
the school-house, and the teachers came over to see if the 
boys were fighting. Ranee smiled at them to reassure 
them, and the struggle went on. 

" Why Mett," said his teacher, " what are you doing 
there under this little boy ? " 

" Don't bother him," said Milton ; " he's busy ! " 

Soper was ominously silent. With a last desperate 
effort he rose; Ranee, swarming all over him, and winding 
his arms about him once more, threw him and fell upon 
him to crush his back to the ground. Ranee twisted 
belly downward, and the frenzied Soper returned to his 
old methods to wear him out. 

" Call it a draw, boys," said Jasper, and the rest took 
the cue. "Let him up, Mett. Call it a draw." 

But not till the teachers pulled him off would Soper 
admit even so much as that. " This ain't ended," he 
said, menacingly, to Ranee, as he put on his coat. 

" I'm ready, any time," replied Ranee. " But I want 
to tell you right now you've got to rastle fair, or I'll let 
the daylight into you. I won't be mauled around by a 
big bully like you." 



372 Boy Life on the Prairie 

And Aletellus did not reply. There was a note In 
Ranee's voice which he had never heard before. 

Late in the afternoon the teacher said : " Lay aside 
books. We will now spell down. James Poindexter 
and Henry Coonrod may choose sides." 

Jim and Henry stepped out into the middle of the 
floor and awkwardlv received the broom from the master. 
Jim tossed it to Henry, who caught it in his right hand; 
Jim then placed his hand above Henry's. Henry put 
his left above Jim's, and so on until Jim's last hold 
covered the end of the stick, and Henry could not secure 
sufficient grip to sustain the broom. Jim chose first, 
and laughing, crowding, whispering, and grimacing, the 
two schools ranged along opposite walls of the room. 

Lincoln's teacher pronounced the words, and the 
battle began. There were twenty on each side, and the 
(ew who remained in the seats quivered with excitement. 
One by one the bad spellers dropped away. Jim and 
Henrv both went down early in the strife, but Lincoln 
stood side by side with Milton. "I can't wrestle for 
shucks," he sometimes said, " but I can spell with any 
of you." As each word was pronounced, Lincoln could 
sec it as distinctly as if he were looking at the printed 
page, and he spelled unhesitatingly on and on, until Jim's 
battle line faded away, and only Ella Pierce, a slim, 
homely little girl, remained, and then the Oak Grove 
teacher took the book to see if his favorite scholar could 
not win the contest. 

Lincoln was exalted by the honors he had won, and 
out of his mat of hair his brown eyes gleamed with 



Visiting Schools 373 

resolution. The sun sank low in the west, filling the 
room with a light such as he had never seen before. He 
had heard of this girl's power and had no sentiment in 
the matter ; he intended to win. The hour for closing 
was long past, but the interest in the contest continued 
unabated. The scholars in their seats cheered unre- 
proved by the masters. At last Milton went down on 
" Cygnet, a young swan," and Lincoln stood alone on 
his side. Lincoln hoped to win — he felt sure of win- 
ning — till suddenly the teacher took up the dictionary 
and began to pronounce new and strange words. Then 
the light went out of the lad's eyes. He could not visu- 
alize these words — he was feeling his way in the dark. 
He stammered, hesitated, and went down, but Ella went 
down on the same word, and in that Lincoln found some 
comfort. The tension of the whole school found relief 
in stormy thumping of fists and stamping of feet. 
Technically the Grove won. 

" School is dismissed," said the teacher, and bedlam 
broke loose. With wild cries the boys crowded into the 
entry way, and snatching caps and coats, escaped into 
the open air for a last rush of play, while the big boys 
brought the sleighs around, the Sun Prairie people 
shrieking and chattering. Those of the Sun Prairie boys 
who found sleighs going their way clung to the box-rim 
and the end-gate, while standing on the heel of the run- 
ners, and so stole a ride home. The bells clashed out, 
the drivers shouted to their teams, and away the great 
sleighs rushed, swarming with tittering girls and whoop- 
ing boys. 



374 ^<^y Life on the Prairie 

Naturally this visit called for a polite return of the 
call, and the boys began to arrange about the teams at 
once, and would have gone to the Grove the following 
Friday, only for the restraining word of the teacher, 
who counselled a decent interval. But at last the great 
day came. Sun Prairie School District filled three 
sleighs and filled them full. Ben Hutchison furnished 
one team, Ed Blackler another, while Ranee and Milton 
joined horses to make the third. Lincoln rode with 
them. Each one came to school that day dressed in his 
best, and there was a pretence of recitations in the early 
morning. 

The day was cloudless, and the sun flamed in dazzling 
splendor from the unstained snows of the prairie. The 
boys raced horses, and the girls alternately shrieked with 
laughter and sang, "•Lily Dale," "The One-horse Open 
Sleigh," and "The Mocking-bird." The small boys 
rode anywhere on the outside of the sleigh rather than 
on the inside where they belonged, and were constantly 
getting into trouble. At last the teams entered the 
woodland, which was always beautiful and m\ sterious to 
Lincoln, after the unshadowed sweep of the snow- 
crusted prairie, and a few moments later drew up before 
the door of the school-house, which was the largest and 
best furnished of all the schools of the township. It 
was used for church and for town-meetings, and Lincoln 
always entered it with a measure of abasement. 

It had an oro;an in a battered box, and " bou2;hten 
desks," and a sort of stage at one end. Altogether it 
seemed the next thin<r to the Rock Ri\cr Court-h(nise 



Visiting Schools 375 

to Lincoln. It was the aristocratic district of the town- 
ship. Its girls were prettier and its citizens more 
prominent in county politics. Sun Prairie stood next, 
but was handicapped by its lack of woods and streams, as 
well as by its comparative youth. To be invited to visit 
Grove School was considered an especially desirable favor. 

Lincoln sat in the corner and dreamed, while his eyes 
explored every corner of the room, and noted the lines 
on every face, and followed the motions of every scholar. 
Under Jasper's direction they sang several choruses, 
which made a most poetic impression on Lincoln, arous- 
ing his ambition to distinguish himself. Ranee, as usual, 
sat quietly in his seat, making no pretensions to be witty 
or wise. 

Mett Soper was vastly excited and could hardly wait 
for recess to come before he challenged Ranee to have 
It out. 

" I don't care to rastle," said Ranee. 

" But you've got to," said Metellus, laying his hand 
on Ranee's shoulder. 

Ranee leaped aside, and his face grew white, a danger- 
some signal, as Lincoln knew. 

" Keep your dirty hands off me," he said. " When I 
say I don't want to rastle, I mean it." 

Metellus followed him up. " I'll make you rastle or 
fight." 

The other boys became silent with excitement, for 
Metellus was a boaster who carried out his threats. 

Ranee was prepared for this. He whipped out a 
knife and opened it. 



376 Boy Life on the Prairie 

"You big bully," he said. "If you touch me, I'll 
kill you." His eyes burned with a most intense light, 
and his face was set and old. "You're four years older 
than I am, and I won't be mauled by you. Now that's 
all. Leave me alone." 

Metellus hesitated, and while he hesitated, the 
teachers both came hurrying out. 

" What's all this ? Ranee, put up your knife," called 
his teacher, a tall, full-faced, gaily young fellow. 

"I will when Mett Soper promises to let me be — 
not till then," he replied doggedly. 

" Shame on you, Metellus," said Jasper, " to persecute 
a boy." 

Metellus turned on his heel, muttering a menace. 

Frank Wilbur slipped forward, and said, " Rather than 
see Mett suffer for want of exercise, I'll try him a 
whack." 

Metellus couldn't well refuse, and so sullenly said, 
" Name y'r holt." 

" No holt at all is my holt," said Frank, who was a 
tall, broad-shouldered fellow with a smiling hazel-gray 
eye. He faced Mett, with his hands in his trousers 
pockets, his head bare, and his shirt-sleeved arms akimbo. 
"Put your hands in your pockets ! " 

Mett squared off, but reluctantly, for he knew Frank's 
skill. With right knees bent and toes tapping the ground 
the two stalwart young fellows circled around each 
other, feinting to draw a swing, swinging in the attempt 
to trip. All the scholars of both schools gathered 
around. Metellus was not without a following, and 



Visiting Schools 377 

besides, he was the champion of the school. There- 
fore cheers went up for him as well as for Frank. 
There were few boys who cared to wrestle in this way, 
for when they fell they fell very hard. Metellus fought 
gamely, but Frank caught him behind the heel at just 
the right moment, and he fell with stunning force. He 
rose slowly, a rigid look of pain on his face. " Now 
try my holt," he said, but Jasper rang the bell, and the 
match was postponed. 

The teacher called on some of his pupils to " speak 
pieces " after recess, and in return the teacher from 
Sun Prairie brought forward Lincoln and Milton to 
recite. Milton came first, and with calm and smiling 
face rattled off a part of " Webster's Speech at Bunker 
Hill," while Lincoln, with a great big chestnut burr in 
his throat, and his heart beating like a flail, waited in 
agony the teacher's call. Never before had such an 
audience faced him. These restless, derisive young- 
sters, and contemptuous big boys, and grown-up girls, 
might well have appalled an old and practised speaker. 

When he faced them, his lips were twitching, and his 
tumbled brown hair seemed to lift in fright. His lips 
were dry, and his voice as weak as a kitten's. He was 
short, and his trousers were long, and rolled up at the 
bottoms. His feet were large, and his boots larger. His 
coat did not fit at any point, and altogether he was a 
comical figure ; but he put his hands behind him and 
began to recite " Lochiel's Warning," which was one 
of his favorite selections. At first he could only speak 
a line at a time, so short was his breath, but at last he 



378 Boy Lite on the Prairie 

gained in confidence, his voice deepened, his head lifted, 
and he rolled out the bombastic thunder of" Lochiel's 

scornful reply with such spirit that all listened. — 

'•False Wizard, avaunt ! I have marshalled my clan. 
Their swords are a thousand, their bosoms are one. 
They are true to the last of their blood and their breath. 
And like reapers descend to the harvest of death." 

And when he closed with the line, — 

"Look proudly to heaven from the death-bed of fame," 

he broke all records by making a gesture with his right 
hand, while lifting his face in action suited to the words, 
and the scholars stamped and whistled, and the teacher 
said, "That boy is going to be senator some day." 

It was a great triumph for him, and helped to estab- 
lish his position among his fellows. He was getting old 
enough also, at this time, to secretly desire the approba- 
tion of the girls, though a single word from one of them 
flooded him with bashful confusion. It seemed espe- 
cially worth while to distinguish himself before the girls 
of the Grove School-house. He had the true male in- 
stinct — the daughters of alien tribes seemed lovelier 
than those who dwelt in the tents of his own people. 

It was dark before they had distributed all the girls at 
their homes, and Ranee went home with Lincoln to 
supper. It had been a good day. 

:)c ^ :(: + :+: + 

As the years passed, the homes of the prairie changed 
for the better. Councill put on a lean-to, so did 



Visiting Schools 379 

Hutchison. Jennings added an ell, and Mr. Stewart 
put up a new kitchen with a half-story chamber above, 
which relieved the pressure a little. The garret above 
the sitting-room was lathed and plastered also, and the 
rooms below were papered. All of these improvements 
made vivid impression on Lincoln's mind. There was 
still no touch of grace, no gleam of beauty, about the 
house. The wall paper was cheap and flimsy, char- 
acters of pattern neutral if not positively harmful in 
color. A few chromos hung on the walls — wretched 
things even for chromos. These were the only adorn- 
ments, and the homes around were not much different. 
Nature was grand and splendid — the works of man 
were pitiful. 

The school-house changed only for the worse. Barns 
were built first, houses improved next, and school- 
houses last of all, though Sun Prairie was as public 
spirited as any of the districts. 

The boys did not perceive the absence of beauty, but 
they were quick to note its presence. Nothing escaped 
them. One of the girls who taught the school in sum- 
mer cut some newspapers into pretty patterns and put 
them over the windows, and when Lincoln entered the 
room next time, the softened light impressed him favor- 
ably. He took note also of every new touch of arma- 
ment assumed by the girls — and this quite aside from 
any idea of courtship. He saw it as color, as being 
something pretty, and though he dared not use the 
word " beautiful," it was in his soul as It was in the 
soul of Ranee and Owen. 



380 Boy Life on the Prairie 

The girls worked out a moiety of their craving for 
beauty on tidies and scarfs and wall-pockets, but these 
the boys seldom saw, for they were ill at ease in parlors. 
Lincoln only knew one, in fact, — the Knapp's, — and 
that he visited very seldom. It had a dim light, — like a 
sacred place, — but he had observed the "spatter-work" 
and the worsted sewn into perforated cardboard, and 
the faded carpet, and remembered them. The girls in 
their best dresses awed him, however, and he escaped to 
the barn as soon as possible. 

His own mother was too hard-worked to do any 
" spatter-work " other than churning or dish-washing, 
and Mary was not yet old enough to begin ; therefore, 
their home remained unadorned — except for the putting 
down of a new rag-carpet which he helped to make by 
tearing and tying old rags together during the long win- 
ter evenings. Once his mother had a " rag party," and 
the women came in to help on the carpet, and Lincoln 
was so averse to meeting them that he remained at the 
barn, and had Owen bring his supper to him. Later 
on in the evening he slipped into the kitchen and sat in 
the corner with Ranee and popped corn for the others 
to eat. 

This carpet glorified the sitting-room, when it came 
back from the old Norwegian woman who wove it, and 
once when the sun shone in upon it and a bird was 
singing outside, the boy thought, " Our home is beauti- 
ful, after all." But it was only the bird, and the sun- 
shine on the floor! 

As he grew older and the life of the prairie became 



Visiting Schools 381 

less free, Lincoln began to take a very vivid interest in 
the social affairs of the Grove School-house. He attended 
the meetings regularly and was to be found at all the 
Grange suppers, donation parties, and surprise parties. 
He often went to the dances, but did not share in them 
— though he longed to do so. 

For several years the aspect of the neighborhood had 
been darkened and made austere by the work of an 
" evangelist," who came preaching the wickedness of 
the natural man and the imminence of death. Inevi- 
tably there was a rebound from this rigid discipline a 
couple of years later, and the people young and old met 
during the winter as often as any excuse offered. Nearly 
every week the Grange held an " open meeting and oyster 
supper," which packed the Grove School-house to the 
very doors. The boys seldom had a chance to eat 
oyster soup, and considered it a heaven-sent privilege. 
They gorged themselves upon it, and burnt little strips 
of skin off the roofs of their mouths in their haste to 
secure a second plate. 

Oysters came from a far country, and could only be 
transported in cans or in " bulk," as they called it. 
"Oyster soup" was the only known way of using them, 
and an "oyster supper" meant bowls of thin stew 
with small crackers. The Grange suppers, however, 
consisted of fried chicken, biscuit, cake and coffee, and 
pie, always both mince and apple pie. The boys played 
" pom-pom pullaway " all the evening and came to the 
supper with the appetites of hired men. Lincoln at 
such times felt quite sure that he was having as much fun 



382 Boy Life on the Prairie 

as any boy. Rock River was greater, but then no farmer 
boy could reasonably hope to live in such a large town. 

The lyceum came on Saturday night generally, and 
the house was always crowded, no matter how cold the 
wind. The stove was a big square box into which 
some public-spirited soul rolled huge red oak "grubs," 
and the people entering hurried at once toward it and 
there stood scorching their outside garments, while 
shivering with the cold, which it seemed to drive in 
upon them. The men were big as bears in their 
huge buffalo overcoats, but the women were all badly 
dressed, and many of them were thin-blooded and weary 
with work and worry. 

The girls wore hoods for the most part, and some of 
them began to look wondrously prettv to Lincoln and 
Ranee, but neither of them had the courage to speak to 
one. Milton, however, was already a great beau and on 
familiar terms with all who came. They said, " Hello, 
Milt," and he replied, " Hello, Carrie," or " Hello, Bettie," 
in the same tone. The girls stood in awe of Ranee, and 
though they seldom spoke to him, they were glad to be 
able to happen beside him as they stood by the stove to 
warm. 

Ranee was secretly desirous of their good-will, but 
his face was always dark and secretive in their presence, 
and they grew nervous and whispered elaborate nothings 
to each other in self-defence ■, these dialogues he took 
to be derision of himself, and moved away. Metellus 
Soper, who also desired the good-will of the girls, while 
standing afar off, continued to seek a quarrel with Ranee, 



Visiting Schools 383 

and was always making coarse jokes in his presence. 
Lincoln often shook with fear when he saw Metellus 
edging toward Ranee. Soper was always present at 
these lyceums and made himself conspicuous in foolish 
ways, whereas Ranee was known to be a well-read boy 
and capable of taking part in the exercises if he would. 
Lincoln knew it would be a tragic battle if the two boys 
met in anger. 

There was always a debate on some such question as 
this, "Was Napoleon a greater general than Caesar?" 
or "Is gunpowder more useful than paper?" A great 
deal of hem-hawing accompanied the debates, and the 
judges solemnly voted at the end of the session, and one 
by one momentous questions of this character were 
settled. Before the debate it was usual to have some 
recitations and essays, and there Milton shone large and 
clear. He had a certain faculty in writing, and often 
presented himself with an oration on some political 
subject in harmony with his father's views — he had not 
yet reached the point of asserting himself. Lincoln 
also took part in the speaking, and occasionally made 
a pronounced hit with some comic recitation from 
Josh Billings or Mark Twain. He quite as often failed 
by being too ambitious and attempting some poem 
whose passion scared him and took his breath away just 
when he needed it most. Owen had developed a gift 
for singing, and with great calmness walked up to the 
platform and piped away at some ballad which he had 
derived from the hired hands or his Uncle David. 

These evenings formed pleasant breaks in the monot- 



384 Boy Life on the Prairie 

ony of winter life, and the bovs who were old enough 
and brave enough to take the girls were well satisfied 
with Sun Prairie. The moon shone as brilliantly in its 
season as anywhere in the world, and on moonless nights 
the stars filled the heayens with innumerable dazzling 
points of light, and the lovers, packed side by side in 
long sleighs, sang cheerily on, unconscious of the cold. 
At such times Ranee and Lincoln, riding in silence be- 
hind some merry party, felt a singular twinge of pain. 
They seemed left out of something very much worth 
while — which was a sign and signal that they were 
soon to leave boyhood behind. 

It was at the lyceum that Lincoln acquired a definite 
ambition. The most conspicuous and successful partic- 
ipants in the exercises were the voung men and women 
who were attending the Rock River Seminary at the 
county town. Their smooth hands and modish dress, 
their ease of manner, the polish of their speech, made a 
powerful impression on the other Sun Prairie bovs. 

Once or twice these "Seminary chaps" let fall a 
contemptuous word about the lyceum debates which 
opened the eyes of Lincoln to their absurdities. He 
perceived that in the eyes of cultured Rock River these 
old farmers were laughable, and once as he rode away 
in the cutter with Rancc, he said : — 

"I'm going to go to the Seminary myself when I'm 
eighteen." 

" I'm going to start in next year," said Ranee, and 
the quick resolution of his voice made Lincoln gasp. 

" Oh, you're coddin'." 



Visiting Schools 385 

" Not much I ain't ; what's the use going on here ? 
Our teacher can't carry us any further. I'm going to go 
to college and I'm going to do something else besides 
farm. You can't do anything worth while without an 
education — I've found that out." 

" Will your father let you go ? " 

" He'll growl at the expense, but I can fix that. 
The boys tell me they can live for about two dollars a 
week down there by " baching it," and we could cut 
that down if we had to. It's settled so far as I'm con- 
cerned. This is my last winter in Sun Prairie, now you 
hear me ! " 

Lincoln had never known Ranee to be so emphatic 
in the utterance of his ambition, and it stirred him very 
deeply. It seemed that he was about to be deserted by 
his hero comrade. 



" POM-POM, PULL-AWAY " 

Out on the snow the boys are springing, 

Shouting blithely at their play; 
Through the night their voices ringing, 

Sound the cry " Pom^ puU-aiuay ! " 
Up the sky the round moon stealing, 

Trails a robe of shimmering white ; 
While the Great Bear slowly wheeling 

Marks the pole-star's steady light. 

The air with frost is keen and stinging. 

Spite of cap and muffler gay ; 
Big boys whistle, girls are singing — 

Loud rings out, " Poin^ puU-awav ! " 
Oh, the phrase has magic in it. 

Sounding through the moon-lit air ! 
And in about a half-a-minute 

I am part and parcel there. 

'Cross the pond I once more scurry 

Through the thickest of the fray, 
Sleeve ripped off bv Andy Murray — 

" Let her rip — Pom^ pull-nivay ! " 
Mothcr'll mend it in the morning 

(Dear old patient, smiling face !); 
One more darn my sleeve adorning — 

'■'-IVhoop her up ! " — is no disgrace. 
386 



" Pom-Pom, Pull- Away " 387 

Moonbeams on the snow-a-splinter, 

Air that stirred the blood like wine — 
What cared we for cold of winter ? 

What for maidens' soft eyes' shine ? 
Give us but a score of skaters 

And the cry, " Pom^ pull-away ! " 
We were always girl-beraters — 

Forgot them wholly, sooth to say ! 

O voices through the night air ringing ! 
O thoughtless, happy, boist'rous play ! 

silver clouds the keen wind winging ; 
At the cry, " Pom^ pull-away ! " 

1 pause and dream with keenest longing 

Yor that starlit magic night, 
For my noisy playmates thronging. 
And the slow moon's trailing light. 



THE BLUE JAY 

His eyes are bright as burnished steel, 

His note a quick, defiant cry ; 
Harsh as a hinge his grating squeal 

Sounds from the keen wind sweeping by. 
Rains never dim his smooth blue coat. 

The cold winds never trouble him. 
No fog puts hoarseness in his throat. 

Or makes his merry eyes grow dim. 

His call at dawning is a shout, 
His wing is subject to his heart; 

Of fear he knows not — doubt 
Did not draw his sailing-chart. 

He is an universal emigre. 

His foot is set in every land ; 
He greets me by gray Casco Bay 

And laughs across the Texas sand. 
In heat or cold, in storm and sun, 

He lives undauntedly ; and when he dies, 
He folds his feet up one by one 

And turns his last look on the skies. 

He is the true American. He fears 
No journey and no wood or wall — 

And in the desert toiling voyagers 
Take heart of courage from his call. 

388 



CHAPTER XXV 



A MOMENTOUS WOLF-HUNT 



The light from the faintly yellow east had begun to 
fill the room, when the sound of a galloping horse, 
rapidly approaching from the south, wakened Lincoln, 
and then a whistle mingled with the trample of the 
horse brought to a halt. 

" That's Milt ! " he cried, leaping from his bed into 
the frosty air, and hurriedly dressing. 

He could hear some one stirring down below ; Mrs. 
Stewart was on her feet. The smell and sizzle of sau- 
sages came up from the kitchen, and the sound of the 
cofFee-mill informed him as to the exact stage of break- 
fast. 

When Lincoln got outdoors, the horseman was at the 
gate, seated statuesquely on a restless gray colt. 

" Hello, Link." 

" Hello, Milt." 

" Ain't you up awful early for a Seminary chap ? " 

" Oh, I guess I hain't lost all my staminy with one 
term o' school," laughed Milt. He looked very bright 
and handsome as he sat on his splendid young horse. 

" Had breakfast ? " 

"Yup." 

389 



390 Boy Life on the Prairie 

" Well, I ain't, so you put Mark in the barn an' wait 
a week or two, while I eat." 

As he moved alongside, Lincoln looked at the gray 
colt admiringly. 

" Ginger, but he's a jim dandy. I didn't think you'd 
ride him to-day. Ranee better look out." 

" I'm riding to win, this time," replied Milton, as he 
slipped from the colt, and led him into the warm, dark 
stable. " Steady, — Mark, old boy, — steady ! " 

" What horse you goin' to ride ? " asked Milton. 

"Well, I don't know. Rob, I guess. Cassius is too 
heavy for such work, don't you think ? " 

" No. Cassius is the best. You see the main thing 
to-day is, to have a horse that can hold out." 

"What you got to shoot with?" 

" A Colt's revolver that I borrowed from Lime Gil- 
man." 

" Well, I guess I'll have to confine my death-dealing 
weapons to my vocal organs," said Lincoln, dropping 
into long words, his favorite way of being jocose. 

" Why so ? " 

" That is, if I ride Cassius. Look at the eyes of 
him," he exclaimed, pointing to a vicious sorrel, who 
showed the whites of his eyes when he saw the lifted 
hand of his master. 

"Hoh!" shouted Lincoln, sharply, and the colt went 
all of a heap against the manger, his eyes staring, his 
body trembling, his wicked hind legs drawn under him. 

" Look out, there," Milton yelled. Lincoln laughed 
and called, — 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 391 

"Wo-up, old man — stiddy now!" and the horse 
untied himself and returned to his place. He quivered 
under the hand placed fearlessly upon him, though Lin- 
coln seldom struck him — it was merely the wild nature 
of the brute. He had a strain of the bronco in his blood. 

After a hasty breakfast, the boys went to the barn 
and brought out the colts. Mark came first, snuffling 
and alert, and Milton put one toe in the stirrup and 
swung gracefully into the saddle. Lincoln followed 
with Cassius, wild already, as if he smelled the game. 

As Lincoln seized the pommel of his saddle, the 
horse plunged and reared and flew away sidewise, but 
the boy hung to the bridle and mane, and as he whirled, 
leaped into his seat and had the wild brute in hand 
before he could make a second rush. He was too good 
a horseman to be irritated by high spirits in a horse. 

It was a glorious winter morning. The sun had 
made the sky red, but had not warmed the earth per- 
ceptibly, had not yet lifted its full face above the long, 
low bank of trees. A light snow was on the ground, 
and the prairie stretched away to an infinite distance — 
made more weirdly impressive by the clarity of the 
atmosphere, which lifted distant hidden barns and houses 
into view. 

As they rode, the sun rose, and its rays, striking 
along the horizon, converted the level prairie into a flat 
basin, with the horsemen low in the centre. To the 
east the line of timber which marked the Maple River 
rose far out of its normal position. Ten miles to the 
left, the larger and deeper forest (where the Rock was 



392 Boy Life on the Prairie 

sheathed like a sword in a scabbard ) seemed only three 
or four miles away. Every house was doubled in height, 
and from each chimney a thin column of smoke rose 
straight into the air, like a slender elm tree. 

" Will the boys be on hand ? " asked Lincoln. 

" Oh, yes ! This snow'll bring 'em out. It was the 
signal. We'll find 'em at the school-house." 

Some miles to the north, and just over the state line, 
a big square of wild land still lay. It was the property 
of an Eastern syndicate, and was not on the market. 
Upon it, as upon an island, the wolves and foxes and 
badgers had taken refuge, and the boys had made several 
more or less successful hunting trips " across the line," 
but Lincoln had never before taken part in them. 
Ranee, who always had a hand in any expedition of 
this kind, had taken part in two wolf-hunts, and was 
the natural leader in the one on hand. 

Milton and Lincoln rode steadily forward toward the 
school-house, the rendezvous of the band. 

"There's smoke a-risin' ! " cried Milton. "Some- 
body's on hand, anyway — and there comes the rest." 

Three horsemen could be seen making easy way 
along a converging lane, and as his eye caught sight of 
them, Milton rose in his saddle and uttered a wild 
whoop, the sound, penetrating the still air, making a re- 
markable change in the pace of the other horsemen. 

Answering yells rose, and a fine race took place. 
Lincoln let the rein loose on Cassius, and dug his heel 
into his flank, and was ofi' before Milton's protest could 
reach him. 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 393 

Milton held Mark down to an easy lope, and watched 
the race between Lincoln and the nearest horseman, 
mounted on a black horse. Lincoln was a little nearer 
to the goal, but had a ravine to cross ; and though the 
iron-sided Cassius did his best, the black turned in just 
a neck ahead. 

When Milton cantered calmly up to the crowd on 
the leeward side of the school-house, they all yelled 
derisively. 

" He ain't any good, that gray horse ! " 

" He's all show ! " 

" Why didn't you let him out ? " 

" You'll find out why, later in the day," responded 
Milton, coolly ; " when the rest of your horses are all 
winded, Mark'll be fresh as a daisy." 

" By jingo ! That's a fact. Didn't think of that," 
the rest replied, 

Milton dismounted and found a place for his horse 
in the little shed, which had been built, after prodigious 
trouble, by the neighborhood. Inside he found the 
fellows sitting around the big box-stove, drinking coffee 
out of a big tin dipper, and eating hunks of sausages 
and bread, which they toasted in the open door of the 
stove, on their jack-knives. 

The coft'ee being disposed of, the question of proceed- 
ing came up. 

" Where's Ranee ? " 

" He's coming, I guess," said one of the boys at the 
window. " Yes, it's him coming licketty-split," 

Ranee turned up soon, riding Ladrone, no longer 



394 ^oy Life on the Prairie 

young, but as swift as ever. The boys all swarmed 
out to meet him. 

" Hello, cap ! We'd about give you up." 

" Want some coftee. Ranee ? " 

"No, climb onto your horses." 

A scurry to mount followed, and in half-a-jiffy a 
dozen boys were seated on their restless horses, impatient 
to be off. 

" What you got to shoot with ? " asked Ranee. 

Frank Wilbur held up a shot-gun, Milton flourished 
his pistol, Cy Hurd had a rifle, and each of the others 
had a gun of some sort. 

" All right. Now we must be off. Keep behind me and 
don't race and don't make too much noise. We strike 
for the big popple grove. Already — into line. March." 

He wheeled his horse and rode away at an easy gal- 
lop, followed by his laughing, jostling troop, along the 
road, between fields, leading to the north. The day 
promised to be bright, the snow was just right, deep 
enough to aid in detecting the wolves, and not so deep as 
to interfere with the speed of the horses. 

It was about ten o'clock Ranee pulled up on the edge 
of the range. " Now, then, Lincoln, you take Milt and 
Cy, and strike into that patch of hazel bush to the right, 
and remember, if you start a wolf, don't try to run him 
down, unless you're close onto him. He'll run in a 
circle — and while you're after him, fire a shot to let us 
know, and we'll cut across lots. When we strike his 
trail you pull right off, and cut across behind us. If he 
turns to the right or left, let us know." 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 395 

It was exhilarating to breathe the keen prairie air, to 
feel under one's thigh the powerful swing of muscles 
firm as iron, to know that at any moment a wolf might 
start up from the brush. The horses caught the excite- 
ment and champed their bits impatiently, and spurned 
the glittering snow high into the air. Soon a shot 
was heard, and wild yells from the right division. A 
moment later, out from behind a popple grove loped a 
wolf, followed by a squad of horsemen. Instantly all 
of the captain's commands were forgotten. Everybody 
joined pursuit, whooping, laughing, firing, without an 
idea of order. 

The wolf was surprised, but seemed to grasp the sit- 
uation. In less than ten seconds the whole troop were 
in a huddle and riding fast, except Ranee, who was 
now on the extreme left, cutting diagonally across. 
He fired his gun to interrupt his mob of excited hunters, 
and rode right into their front and yelled. 

" Halt ! Hold on there ! " 

He was very angry, and they pulled up instantly. He 
waited till they all came back around him. 

" Now, what kind of a way of doing business is that ? 
How many wolves are you going to kill by winding 
every horse in the crowd the first jump ? You'll kill 
more horses than wolves. Now listen to me : We 
don't want more than three horses after the wolf at the 
same time. The others must cut him off. Don't be in 
a hurry — wait and see where he's heading." 

The boys were silent. 

" Milt and Lincoln were all right. They started the 



396 Boy Life on the Prairie 

game. But the rest of you were all wrong. Now, the 
wolf is in that big tow-head there. Cy, you go to 
the right, and. Milt, you go to the left, and I'll take the 
centre, and we'll see if we can go at this man- 
fashion." 

In a few minutes they had partially encircled the 
grove and were moving down on it. Again the wolf 
broke cover, and started to the left. He was not aware 
of Milton and Lincoln, because they were hidden by 
another bunch of aspen, and Lincoln gave a wild whoop 
as the yellow-brown grizzled creature darted around the 
grove, almost under his feet, and entered the brush 
before the boy could collect himself. 

Cassius leading, the party of four rushed into the 
brown hazel patch, a rushing, snorting squadron. The 
brush impeded and bewildered the wolf, and he doubled 
on his track, bursting out on the prairie again, at an 
oblique angle to the course of the other horsemen. 

The chase became magnificent. The wolf seemed 
to float along the ground, his long tail waving, his ears 
alert. Ranee was riding like mad, to intercept him, and 
the wolf didn't seem to understand, — but he did: just 
as Ladrone seemed upon him, he disappeared. Ranee 
reined sharply to the left, and waved his hat to Lincoln, 
who comprehended the situation. The wolf had en- 
tered a deep ravine, which ran to the southeast, and 
was doubling again, seeking his den. 

" He's going back ! " shouted Milton, letting Mark 
out for the first time. The grand brute, snorting with 
delight, slid over the ground, light as the wolf himself. 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 397 

The rider sat him as if he were standing still, but exult- 
ing to feel the vast power and pride of his horse. 

" See that horse run ! " shouted Lincoln, in delight. 
The majestic colt swept down upon the wolf, as if all 
eyes were upon him, and his honor at stake. Milton 
could see the head of the wolf then. It seemed as if 
Mark must run him down, so certainly equal were the 
distances, but Mark thundered down the slope and into 
the swale a few rods in advance. The wolf whipped 
out behind, — Milton fired twice, — but the fugitive 
kept on. He reined Mark sharply to the right, with 
unabated speed, and rode back up the slope, on a wide 
curve, waving his hat to show the way the wolf had 
gone. 

But the others had seen the change in course, and 
were driving down on the wily fugitive in a body. Ed 
Blackler was in the lead, his shot-gun ready, guiding 
his horse by the pressure of his knees. He was upon 
him with a rush, and fired. The wolf leaped into the 
air, rose, avoided the rush of the black, and started into 
the brush. Now was Lincoln's opportunity, and strik- 
ing Cassius with the flat of his hand, he swept upon the 
wolf like a whirlwind. The wounded beast fell under 
the feet of the wild-eyed Cassius, who would have tram- 
pled fire in his excitement. 

When Milton rode up to the circle of panting horses 
and excited boys, Lincoln was handing the tail to Ed 
Blackler, and Ranee was saying : — 

" The ears are yours. Link. That crazv old fool of 
yours did the business." 



39^ Boy Life on the Prairie 

The boys were deHghted with the result. Everybody 
praised the superb run made by Mark, the good shoot- 
ing done by Ed Blackler, and the mad courage of Cas- 
sius, who bore the marks of the wolf's teeth on his 
legs. 

" Now we'll strike for Rattlesnake Grove, and go 
through every patch of hazel brush on the way," com- 
manded Ranee. But it was high noon before they 
started another wolf, and he (or she) popped into a den 
just as Ranee was drawing near enough to shoot. The 
ground was too hard to dig him out. 

About this time they began to look for the commis- 
sary cutter, which they had left far behind, and forgotten 
until now. They were hungry. One of the riders was 
ordered to ride back to a swell, and signal the approach 
of the "supply train." In the meantime the others, after 
blanketing the horses, began to collect dry limbs, and to 
build a fire in the centre of one of the groves. 

It was a fine moment as they grouped themselves 
around the smoking fire, toasting sausages on hazel 
twigs and drinking coffee. Nothing could be seen but 
trees, gray skv, and the blanketed horses. They resem- 
bled a camp of brigands. At last the captain said, — 

" Fall in, everybody." 

Lincoln saw the next wolf standing on the north side 
of a little round grove, listening intentlv, his head on 
one side, his steel-like muscles tense and quivering. He 
was looking away, and Lincoln whispered regretfully to 
Milton, " Oh, for a rifle ! " 

" Ride onto him with y'r pistol." 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 399 

Milton was cautious: "No, wait; there's Cy Hurd, 
he's got a rifle. Why, he don't see him ! the donkey ! 
Hay ! there he is ! " 

At Milton's shout the wolf gave a prodigious leap, 
and set oft' across the open plain, followed by Cyrus 
Hurd and his squad. Ranee was far to the east. 

Hurd fired his revolver as he rode, and soon the three 
divisions were riding furiously, side by side, nearly half a 
mile apart : Cy in the lead, but losing as the wolf laid 
himself to the work. It was a long chase, and one by 
one the fellows reined in, till only Ranee and Blackler 
at the right, and Lincoln and Milton at the left, and Cy 
Hurd in the centre, were in the race. 

Cy knew that the wolf would surely turn to the left, 
and pressed him hard, therefore, till he dropped into a 
deep ravine, running at right angles to the course. He 
pulled up short, unable to tell which way his game had 
gone, while both of the wing divisions pressed on at 
full speed, each expecting to intercept the cunning 
beast. 

Milton was satisfied the wolf had not time to pass, so 
turned sharply as he entered the ravine, and thundered 
down to the right. He soon reined up, and was stand- 
ing irresolute when the wolf came sailing around a bend 
in the gully. Milton will never forget the cool, cunning, 
yet astonished look in his eyes. He seemed a piece of 
faultless machinery doing its work without noise, fric- 
tion, or waste of power. 

Milton fired twice as the animal floated up the bank, 
Mark after him. On level ground above, the wolf was 



400 Boy Life on the Prairie 

no match for the colt, and twice turned as his pursuer 
thundered upon his heels. The last time he gained 
time to cross the ravine again, and when Milton and 
Lincoln reached the level again, he was ten rods away, 
and running like the wind, apparently undisturbed. 

" Nffiu^ Mark ! " yelled Milton, and for the first time 
in his life Mark brought out all his powers. With nos- 
trils expanded, and wide eyes full of fire, he spurned the 
loose snow, in a glittering shower, into the eyes of Cas- 
sius, close behind him, with Lincoln yelling like a Sioux. 
Now Cassius's reserve power began to tell. Slowly he 
drew ahead of Mark, who was worn with his previous 
race. With wild head gauming, Cassius tore down upon 
the now wholly desperate animal. Cassius, compara- 
tively fresh, could overhaul the wolf, but Lincoln knew 
the wolfs tricks, and allowed the horse to gain but 
slowly, inch by inch. He was but a few rods in ad- 
vance, and running silently and apparently easily, the 
play of his muscles concealed by his long hair. The 
pace was terrific, and Cassius tugged no more at 
the rein ; he was running his best, his breath roaring. 
The wolf, almost under his feet, had a curiously calm 
expression, not scared, not angry ; then something hap- 
pened. The earth shook, the sky turned black, and 
strange noises filled the air, faint and far away. 

When he had time to think about these singular 
phenomena, Lincoln perceived that he was lying on the 
ground, and that the boys all in a group were shooting 
the wolf. He turned his head and saw Cassius gallop- 
ing wildly in a circle, the stirrups pounding his ribs. 



A Momentous Wolf-hunt 401 

Then he thought he would get up, but one leg felt 
numb and heavy, and he sank back on the ground, just 
as the boys caught sight of him, and came riding up. 

He waved his cap and gave a feeble shout, to show 
that he was not dead. 

Milton reached him first, looking very queer. 

"What's the matter ? Hurt ? " 

"I guess my leg's banged up a little; it's numb. 
Where's my horse ? " 

"We'll take care of the horse," said Ranee, as he 
dismounted. "Somebody get that cutter, quick. Catch 
the horse and take his blanket off. We'll need it to 
wrap Link up in. He's hurt pretty bad, I reckon." 

There was a horrible limpness in one leg which 
Ranee saw and shuddered at. 

The leg began to pain him a good deal, but Lincoln 
said : " I guess I ain't hurt very much. The snow kind 
o' broke the force of the fall." But he groaned when 
they lifted him into the cutter, and the boys were badly 
scared. Ranee got in with him, and the others fell in 
behind — a melancholy train. Ranee wondered what 
Lincoln's mother would say when she saw Cassius being 
led riderless down the road. They were a long way from 
home, and when the road permitted it. Ranee drove hard. 
He stopped at John Moss's house for some extra blank- 
ets, and Bettie came out to see the wounded boy. 

" I'm all right," he said, though his chin trembled. 
"It don't hurt — much — now." 

Bettie tucked him in nicely, but took the side of the 
wild animals, girl fashion : — 
2 D 



402 Bov Life on the Prairie 

" It serves you right " (she didn't realize how badly he 
was hurt) " to go chasing those poor little wolves all over 
the prairie. How do you s'pose you'd feel to have a 
whole raft of Indians ridin' down on top of you^ and 
shootin' pistols and yellin' ? " 

" Wouldn't feel much worse'n I do now," he said, 
with a wan smile. 

One by one the hunters dropped ofF till only Ranee 
and Milton and Cv were left to take the wounded com- 
rade to his home. 

"Milt, you ride — ahead — and tell mother — I'm all 
right," said Lincoln ; and Milton spurred on, obediently. 

It was long after dark when Milton knocked at the 
door and Mrs. Stewart came to the door. Something 
in his face alarmed her instantly. " Where is Lincoln ? 
Is he hurt ? " 

" Not very bad, I guess. Cassius fell with him. 
He's comin' in the cutter." 

"Tell Duncan, quick. He's in the barn. I've ex- 
pected that colt would do something." 

When Lincoln felt his mother's arm round his neck, 
his e\es were dim with tears. He had never seen her 
look like that, so white and drawn. Mr. Stewart was 
verv grave, also, as he lifted his son out of the sleigh, 
for the limp leg was plainly broken. 

" Saddle Rob," he said to Milton, " and get a doctor 
as quick as the Lord'll let you." Milton was in the 
saddle and clattering down the road before his chum 
was fairlv in his bed. Ranee stayed with him till the 
doctor came. 



CHAPTER XXVI 

LINCOLN GOES AWAY TO SCHOOL 

Lincoln had known little about sickness up to this 
time, and the sickness and confinement which followed 
produced a great change in him. To be stretched on a 
bed like a trussed turkey, helpless and drawn with pain, 
while Owen and Tommy, blowsy with health, were 
enjoying the sun and air, was very hard to bear. For 
many days he lay in his mother's dim little room, unable 
even to turn himself, his bones weary and sore with 
contact with the mattress, till his ruddy color faded out, 
his arms grew thin, and his hands almost translucent. 
The hearty, noisy boy became as weak and dependent 
and querulous as a teething child. 

It was a wonderful trial to him. It taught him 
patience and self-reliance, for he was necessarily a great 
deal alone. His mother had her work to do, and so did 
Owen and his father, but Tommy, with his queer little 
ways, came to be a great solace to him. Ranee and 
Milton and Shepard Warren, and others of his school- 
mates came of a Saturday to see him, sliding into the 
room awkwardly to say, — 

" Hello, Link, how are you .? " but they only stayed 
a few minutes and vanished into the outer sunlit world 
from which he was barred. Their hearty dislike for 
sickness made his lot all the harder by contrast. Each 

403 



404 Boy Life on the Prairie 

day the outside world seemed farther away and more 
beautiful to him. 

Sometimes lying alone, with all the family absent, he 
heard the jingle of sleigh-bells, and the singing of young 
girls, and his heart grew sore and he wept. In the 
sound of those young voices lay all the splendid winter 
life, from which he was shut out, and which it seemed 
he was never again to join. He sometimes reproached 
them in his heart for being so unmindful of his pain 
and weariness. 

His brain was very active — too busy, in fact, for his 
good. Hopes, aspirations, plans, hardly articulate here- 
tofore, now took shape in his mind. He was sixteen 
years of age, and in his own mind quite grown up, and 
the question of an education had come to dominate all 
others. He did not like farm work. The mud and 
grime and lonely toil connected with it made each year 
more irksome, while the town and other trades and pro- 
fessions grew correspondingly more alluring. Again and 
again, when they were alone. Ranee and he had planned 
ways of escape together. 

Captain Knapp was secretly pleased to have his boy 
ambitious, but hoped to keep him with him in spite of 
education. He had yielded the fall before, and Ranee 
was attending school in Rock River Normal School, 
intending to fit himself to teach. Milton had also 
secured this privilege, but Mr. Stewart held out. 

" You have all the education you need," he said, " if 
you're going to farm, and I don't intend to fit you to 
be a shyster lawyer in a small town." 



Lincoln goes away to School 405 

All these things the helpless boy turned over in his 
thoughts as he lay stretched on his bed. The coming in 
of Ranee or Milton added fuel to his fire, for they were 
full of talk concerning their school life. Their hands 
were growing soft and supple, their best coats being 
worn every day fitted better, for the boys accommodated 
themselves to the garments. They wore standing 
collars and fashionable ties, and their shoes were polished, 
and all these changes were eloquent of a world where 
hands were somethino; more than hooks with which to 
steady a plough or push a currycomb. " I'll be with 
you next year, boys, or bust a tug," he said resolutely. 

Mrs. Stewart sympathized with him in the way of 
mothers, but knew too little of the world to believe 
that her boys could earn a living in any other way than 
by farming. She counselled patience, saying, " Things'll 
come around by and by," which was a favorite phrase 
with her. 

As soon as he was able to write, Lincoln composed a 
letter to his Uncle Robert, who was a carpenter and 
joiner in Ripon. To him Lincoln unconsciously ap- 
pealed with boyish directness, telling of his hurt, and 
of his hope of being able to go to the Seminary the 
coming year. A few days later, he was surprised and 
deeply pleased to receive a letter in reply, in which his 
uncle said, "Times are slack just now, and I think I'll 
run out and see you." 

The following Tuesday he came, a big, red-bearded 
man, like his brother Duncan in some ways, but gentler, 
more meditative. He was a good deal of a student, 



4o6 Bov Life on the Prairie 

and had been a notable fiddler in his youth, but had 
given it up because it made him discontented with 
sawing and hammering. " A4y theory is, if you can't 
do the best thing in life, do the next best," he said once 
in speaking of life's problems. 

He had visited his brother's family several times since 
their removal to the prairie, for he was very fond of 
children, and had none of his own. He often remarked 
of Lincoln, "He'll be an orator — this lad," and this 
time he came with a definite proposition to make con- 
cerning his fa\orite nephew. 

" See here, Duncan," he said, almost at once, " you've 
a discontented, ambitious boy on your hands. He don't 
like farming, he's just at the age when a schooling is 
necessarv. Why not let him come home with me .'' 
He can go to school in season, and help me at my trade 
during vacation. Marv and me have no children at all, 
and you have three and more a-comin'. You couldn't 
hold this boy more than five years more, anyway, and I 
can do for him at small expense what you don't feel 
able to do at all." 

The good mother was at first profoundly saddened by 
this proposal, but Robert assured her that Lincoln could 
come home any time she sent for him, and gradually she 
came to the point of consenting. Duncan took a very 
practical view of it. He had held two very spirited 
arguments with Lincoln, wherein the boy declared with 
great emphasis : " I will not wear out my life milking 
cows. I hate it. Part of farming I like, but I am go- 
ing to have an education in something else beside hauling 



Lincoln goes away to School 407 

out manure." Duncan knew that his boy was leaving 
him, anyway, and that Robert would be made happier by 
having Lincoln come into his lonely life. He had 
Owen and Tommy, and Owen, at least, had promised 
to follow in their father's footsteps. 

It was an anxious moment when the result of their 
argument was communicated to Lincoln. He was sit- 
ting in an easy chair, with his school books beside him, 
as his father and mother came in from the kitchen. 
His mother had tears in her eyes, but his father merely 
blew his nose as he said, — 

" Well, Lincoln, we've decided to let you go home 
with Robert as soon as you're able." 

As he looked at them in stupefaction, his book 
slipped from his fingers, and his mother came over 
and, stooping down, kissed his hair, and put her arm 
about his neck. Tears were on his own cheeks as he 
said, — 

" I won't go, mother, if you don't want me to." 

Then Duncan said, " Come in, Rob ; we've told 
him." 

Robert Stewart came in briskly. '<• Well ! Well ! " 
he said loudly. " What's all this crying about ? 
We're not going to put him in jail. Come now, if 
you're going to take it so hard as all that, I back 
out." 

But this sadness was only momentary, after all. Mrs. 
Stewart resumed her serenity of manner, and nothing 
further was said about the matter, so far as the parents 
and the boys were concerned. 



4o8 Boy Lite on the Prairie 

After a few days' visit Robert returned to Ripon, sav- 
ing just as he was leaving, " Now take care of yourself, 
boy, and be ready to come on in April." 

There was another moment of sadness when he told 
Ranee and Milton about it. Ranee looked very glum 
and said nothing, but Milton cried out : — 

" Criminv ! that's a deadner on us. I thought sure 
you'd be with us next spring. Well, it's a good chance 
for you. You can go to college now, sure." 

*' That's what I will," Lincoln stoutly replied. 

He was able to read now, and life began to be less 
wearisome. He read — read anything — the Toledo 
Blade^ The Ledger^ The Saturday Nighty " Ivanhoe," 
"The Farmer's Book," Milton — anything at all. As 
he began to grow stronger he set himself to study, going 
over his books in earnest, to keep fresh in them. He 
thought of nothing else but the new life opening up for 
him. Sometimes he was sad at the thought of leaving 
home, and there came moments when the great world 
outside seemed about to open up for him. He grew 
rapidly in intellectual grace during these months of 
confinement. 

At last when the sun of March had melted the snow 
from the chip-pile, he crawled forth into the open air 
for the first time, the ghost of his old-time self, a pale, 
sad boy on crutches, with big, wistful brown eyes sweep- 
ing the horizon. The prairie chickens were whooping 
on the knolls, ducks were again streaming northward, 
and the hens in the chip-pile were caw-cawing as of 
old. On the south side of the house a little green grass 



Lincoln goes away to School 409 

shone in the sun. It was all so beautiful, so good to 
see and hear and feel, that the boy was dumb with 
ecstasy. It was as if the world were new, as if no 
spring had ever before passed over his head, so sweet 
and awesome and thrillingly glorious was the good old 
earth. The boy lifted his thin face and big sombre 
eyes to the sky, his nerves quivering beneath the touch 
of the wind, the downpour of the sun, and the vibrant 
voices of the flying fowl. Life at that moment ceased 
to be simple and confined — at that moment he entered 
upon his young manhood. 

The prairies allured him as never before, as the day 
for leaving them drew near, but at the thought of part- 
ing from Ranee and Owen and his mother, a big lump 
filled his throat. Why was it that an act so wise, so 
beneficial as this one seemed, should now become so 
filled with painful sacrifice ? He puzzled and suff'ered 
over this. It lessened the pain only a hair's weight to 
say, " I'll be back at Christmas." The present sorrow 
outweighted all future promise of joy. 

Seeding was in full drive on the Saturday when he 
went over to say good-by to Ranee. The sky was 
softly, radiantly blue, and two cranes were weaving 
wondrous patterns against a radiant cloud, wheeling 
majestically, uttering their resounding notes — the walls 
of heaven seemed to vibrate to their calls ; frogs were 
peeping in the marshes, the chickens were beginning 
their evening chorus. Robins were singing from the 
tops of the Lombardy poplars which he had planted. 
The boy's heart was big with emotion, and as he stood 



4IO Boy Life on the Prairie 

waiting for his comrade, it seemed as if he could not 
say the cruel words, "good-by." 

Ranee saw him afar off and waved a hand, but he 
was driving the seeder and was obliged to watch his 
wheel-track closely. He wheeled his machine before 
he spoke. 

"You don't look like a workingman. I didn't 
know it was Sunday," he said, with a smile. 

Lincoln's eyes did not lighten. " I am going to- 
morrow," he said, looking away on the plain. 

Ranee made no reply till he had filled the seeder-box 
with wheat. " I thought it was next Monday." 

" No, Pm going to-morrow." 

" Well, I wish I was going, too." 

" I wish you was," was all Lincoln could say, and 
then they were silent again. 

" When you coming back ? " 

" Oh, Christmas time, I guess." 

There was another silence, then Ranee said : " Well, 
this won't do for me." He took up the reins. " Write 
and let me know how you like it." 

"You bet! You must write, too." 

" All right, I will. G'wan, Bill ! " and he was off 
for another round. 

Lincoln walked away with the pain in his throat 
growing more intolerable each minute. It was as if 
he were about to die and leave the beautiful world and 
all his loved ones behind. 

All wept when he said good-by next day. His 
mother clung to him as if she could not let him go, and 



Lincoln goes away to School 411 

at last fairly flung him away, and ran out of the room. 
The trip on the railway train, the return to his native 
State, helped him to take the obstruction out of his 
throat, but some subtle presence instructed him in these 
words : " Ton are leaving the prairie forever." 




LADRONE 

And, " what of Ladrone " — do you ask ? 

Oh ! friend, I am sad at the name. 

My splendid fleet roan! — The task 

You require is a hard one at best. 

Swift as the spectral coyote, as tame 

To my voice as a sweetheart, an eye 

Like a pool in the woodland asleep. 

Brown, clear, and calm, with color down deep, 

Where his brave, proud soul seemed to lie — 

Ladrone ! There's a spell in the word. 
The city walls fade on my eye — the roar 

Of its traffic grows dim 

As the sound of the wind in a dream. 
My spirit takes wing like a bird. 
Once more I'm asweep on the plain, 
The summer wind sings in my hair ; 
Once again I hear the wild crane 
Crying out of the stemming air; 
White clouds are adrift on the breeze, 
The flowers nod under mv feet, 
And under my thighs, 'twixt my knees. 
Again as of old I can feel 
The roll ot Ladronc's firm muscles, the reel 
Of his chest — see the thrust of fore-limb 
And hear the dull trample of heel. 
412 



Ladrone 413 

We thunder behind the mad herd. 
My singing whip swirls Uke a snake. 
Hurrah ! We swoop on like a bird, 
With my pony's proud record at stake — 
For the shaggy, swift leader has stride 
Like the last of a long kingly line ; 
Her eyes flash fire through her hair ; 
She tosses her head in disdain ; 
Her mane streams wide on the air — 
She leads the swift herd of the plain 
As a wolf-leader leads his gaunt pack, 
On the slot of the desperate deer — 
Their exultant eyes savagely shine. 



But down on her broad shining back 
Stings my lash like a rill of red flame — 
Huzzah, my wild beauty ! Your best; 
Will you teach my Ladrone a new pace ? 
Will you break his proud heart in a shame 
By spurning the dust in his face ? 
The herd falls behind and is lost. 
As we race neck and neck, stride and stride. 
Again the long lash hisses hot 
Along the gray mare's glassy hide — 
Aha, she is lost ! she does not respond. 
The storm of her speed's at its best — 
Now I lean to the ear of my roan 
And shout — letting fall the light rein. 
Like a hound from the leash, my Ladrone 



414 Boy Life on the Prairie 

Swoops ahead — 

We're alone on the plain ! 

Ah ! how that wild li\ ing comes back ! 

Alone on the wide, solemn prairie 

I ride with my rifle in hand, 

My eyes on the watch for the wary 

And beautiful antelope band. 

Or sleeping at night in the grasses, I hear 

Ladrone grazing near in the gloom. 

His listening head on the sky 

I see etched complete to the ear. 

From the river below comes the boom 

Of the bittern, the trill and the cry 

Of frogs in the pool, and shrill crickets' chime. 

Making ceaseless and marvellous rhyme. 

But what of his fate F Did he die 
JVhen that terrible tempest was done ? 
When he staggered xvith you to the Ught^ 
And your fight with the Norther ivas won^ 
Did he live like a guest ever rnoreF 

No, friend, not so. I sold him — outright. 

What ! sold your preserver^ your mate^ he who 
Through ivind and ivild snoiv and deep night 
Brought you safe to a shelter at last F 
Did you^ when the danger had end^ 
Forget your dumb hero — your friend? 



Ladrone 415 

Forget ! no, nor can I. Why, man, 

It's little you know of such love 

As I felt for him ! You think that you feel 

The same deep regard for your span. 

Blanketed, shining, and clipped to the heel. 

But my horse was companion and guard — 

My playmate, my ship on the sea 

Of dun grasses — in all kinds of weather, 

Unhoused and hungry sometimes, he 

Served me for love and needed no tether. 

No, I do not forget ; but who 

Is the master of fortune and fate ? 

Who does as he wishes and not as he must ? 

When I sold my preserver, my mate, 

My faithfullest friend — man, I wept. 

Yes, I own it ! His beautiful eyes 

Seemed to ask what it meant. 

And he kept them fixed on me in startled surprise. 

As another hand led him away. 

And the last that I heard of my roan. 

Was the sound of his shrill, pleading neigh! 

O magic west wind of the mountain, 

steed with the stinging mane, 

In sleep I draw rein at the fountain, 

And wake with a shiver of pain ; 

For the heart and the heat of the city 

Are walls and prison and chain. 

Lost my Ladrone — gone the wild living — 

1 dream, but my dreaming is vain. 



CONCLUSION 

When he next saw Sun Prairie, Lincoln was twenty- 
four years of age, a full-grown man, with a big mustache. 
Shortly after he went to Ripon his father's younger 
brother died, and Duncan returned to the homestead in 
Wisconsin, and Lincoln had never made his promised 
visit to his friends on Sun Prairie. 

It was a changed world, a land of lanes and fields and 
houses hid in groves of trees which he had seen set out. 
No one rode horseback any more. Where the cattle 
had roamed and the boys had raced the prairie wolves, 
fields of corn and oats waved. No open prairie could 
be found. Every quarter-section, every acre, was 
ploughed. The wild flowers were gone. Tumble- 
weed, smartweed, pigweed, mayflower, and all the 
other plants of semi-civilization had taken the place of 
the wild asters, pea-vines, crow's-foot, sunflowers, snake- 
weed, sweet-williams, and tiger-lilies. The very air 
seemed tamed and set to work at the windmills which 
rose high above every barn, like great sunflowers. 

Ranee met him at the station, and together the two 
young men rode up the lanes which they had known so 
well. It was mid June, and the corn was deep green 
and knee high. The cattle in the pasture, sleek and 
heavy, did not look up as the teams rolled by. "They 

416 



Conclusion 417 

are not much like the cattle of the range," said Lin- 
coln. "It seems a long time ago, don't it ? " 

Ranee smiled in his old-time fashion, and slowly 
said, "Seems longer to me than to you. I've spent all 
my vacations at home." 

Lincoln sighed a little. *' I wish I had taken Madi- 
son instead of Ripon, but it was a ground-hog case. 
How do you like teaching ? " 

" First rate. It gives me time to read, and pays as 
well as anything I can get into." 

"Do you go back to Cedarville next year? " 

" No ; since I wrote you I've got a better thing. I go 
as assistant principal of the Winnesheik High School." 

" That's good. I hate teaching. It looks now 
as though I'd have to be a shyster lawyer, as father 
says ; but I'm going into politics a little. They're 
going to run father for county treasurer, and that will 
put me in line for promotion. That's Old Man Bacon's 
place. Old man must be dead. He never would fix 
up like that." 

"Oh, Lime Gilman did that. He's moved in on the 
old man. Old Bill fell and hurt his back, and can't do 
anything but just hobble around." 

" That's hard lines for him ; what a worker he was ! 
I'd like to see Marietta. Is she as handsome as ever ? " 

"Pretty near. Lime takes care of her. They have 
the best furniture in the township. Lime is the same 
easy-going chap that he used to be." 

As they approached the old place, Lincoln's heart 
beat distinctly faster. It was like rediscovering a part 



41 8 Boy Life on the Prairie 

of himself to retrace his steps. He could shut his eyes 
and see every slope, every ravine, every sink-hole; but 
when he came opposite the house, it was less familiar 
than he had hoped. The trees had grown prodigiously. 
The Lombardys towered far over the house and barn. 
The wall was shaded by the maples he had planted, and 
the wind-break had become a grove. Something mystical 
had gone out of it all. It was not so important as his 
imagination had made it. It was simpler, thinner of 
texture some way, and he drove on with a feeling of 
disappointment. 

The great change of all lay in the predominance of 
the dairy interest. The wheat-fields were few and small, 
the pastures many, Lincoln spoke of this. 

"Yes," replied Rancc, "when the wheat crops began 
to fail, all these changes came with a rush. The country 
went from grain to cows in a couple of years. I used 
to notice a difference every year when I came home. 
Less wheat, more cows." 

"That's Hutchison's place; looks very much the 
same. Ben at home ? " 

" No, Ben went to Dakota. There's a big exodus 
just now for the Green River valley. Hum Bunn — 
you remember Hum and our fight? — well, he's out 
there, and Doudney and the Dixons and Peases. Milt 
thought of going, but he married Eileen Deering and 
got a county office, and that settled him." 

" I heard about that. Milt will take care of himself. 
He'll joke his way into Congress sure as eggs raise 
chickens, as Old Man Doudney used to say." 



Conclusion 419 

The country looked rich and tame. Every acre was 
cultivated, — all loaded with hay or corn or timothy; no 
sign of the prairie grass existed. Along the lanes clover 
had taken root, the hazel bushes had been cut down 
by the grading-machine. 

" I'd like to see a strip of wild meadow. Is it all 
gone.''" asked Lincoln. 

"I don't know of any — not a rod. There may be 
some off to the north where we used to hunt wolves. 
We might go and see." 

" Let's do it. It would do me a heap o' good to see 
some of the good old weeds and grasses. I suppose a 
fellow'd have to go clear to the Missouri River to see a 
vacant quarter-section." 

"I don't believe there is any vacant land in the state 
— there may be some in the extreme northwest, over 
beyond the Coon Fork. Last year brought a tremen- 
dous rush of settlement, and I hear everything was taken 
clear throuo-h to the line. Norwegians came in swarms. 
Well, there's the Knapp place — not so much changed ; 
trees have grown up, that's all." 

Lincoln began to smile. " I used to stand very much 
in awe of your sisters. Is Agnes at home ? " 

"Yes. Bess is in Dakota. She married Ed Bartle." 

*' I remember your writing to me about it. I used to 
think they were the handsomest women in the world." 

" Owen, I hear, is a great sprinter," said Ranee, after 
a little pause. 

"Owen is all right," said Lincoln. "He's 'short 
stop ' in the college nine, and has held first place on the 



420 Boy Life on the Prairie 

two hundred and twenty yards course for three years. 
He's actually had his name in the Chicago papers and is 
quite set up about it. He's a good all-round athlete, 
but not a bit ambitious otherwise." 

" I'd like to see the boy. He was a queer little josy 
when we all rode horses on the prairie. By the way, 
do you ride ? " 

" Haven't been on a horse since I left here." 

" Neither have I. It might be a curious job to dig 
up some saddles and ride out to-morrow." 

" Good ! I'm with you." 

As they drove into the yard, Captain Knapp came 
out to see them. He looked much older than Lincoln 
had expected, but he held his place much better than 
most of his old acquaintances. Lincoln had grown 
to him, but not beyond him. He was very cordial in 
his quiet way, and led his guest to the house, where 
Agnes, a pale, thin girl of twenty-eight or thirty, stood 
to meet them. 

She was very pretty in spite of her pallor, and met 
Lincoln with outstretched hands. 

"We had almost given up expecting you," she said. 

As they sat talking that evening, Lincoln was aware 
of curious changes in his own mind. The familiar 
voices of these friends sank deep into his old self. 
Agnes seemed two persons. At one moment he saw 
her with the eyes of his awestruck boyhood, and the 
next she was a pale young woman, almost painfully shy 
in his presence. Captain Knapp was as aloof as ever. 
He, too, had grown. His deep black eyes, his slow, 



Conclusion 421 

thoughtful voice, his well-chosen words, kept him in his 
place — a man of really deep thought and serene out- 
look on the world. 

The parlor was unchanged except that mixed with 
the spatter-work were some engravings which Ranee 
had sent home from time to time. Ranee slept in the 
same room on the east side of the house, and when 
Lincoln looked in, he had a return to his old boyish 
timidity before his hero. 

He lay awake till late, musing over the many changes 
eight years had brought to Sun Prairie. Change was 
going on just as fast during the six years he had lived here, 
but he had not observed it. Coming back in this way, 
all the deaths, births, marriages, and departures made up 
a long list which saddened and bewildered him. It was 
as if some supporting, steadying hand had been with- 
drawn, and the wheels of life had hurried suddenly in 
their courses. This was an illusion, but he could not 
brush the thought aside. 

In the talk that followed next day, he learned that 
many of the younger sons were away at school or had 
become successful professional men. The prairie had 
seemingly turned out a large number of bright minds. 
The Grove district had done as well. 

In the afternoon Ranee took Lincoln out to the barn, 
and after some search dug a couple of rusty saddles out 
of a barrel, and with a look of mingled sadness and 
amusement said : — 

" From the looks of these saddles the rats thought 
we were done with them. I guess they're right. It 



422 Boy Life on the Prairie 

would lame us, anyhow, to ride these big horses ; if 
we had Ladrone and Ivanhoe, the case would be dif- 
ferent. I guess we'll have to drive." 

Ladrone and Ivanhoe ! As he spoke these words, 
Lincoln's heart leaped and his throat swelled. The 
plain with all its herds, grasses, wild-fowl, and fruits, 
were associated with those words. Both those beauti- 
ful creatures were dead and their saddles covered with 
rust. Nothing else could have spoken as those dusty, 
rusty, rat-eaten pieces of leather. 

Both boys were silent as they rode away on their 
search for a little piece of the vanishing prairie. They 
drove along dusty, weedy lanes, out of which the grass- 
hoppers rose in clouds. Big hay-barns and painted 
houses stood where the shacks of early settlers once 
cowered in the winds of winter. Pastures were where 
the strawberries grew, and fields of barley rippled where 
the wild oats once waved. The ponds were dried up ; 
the hazel bushes cut down ; not even a single tree 
of the tow-heads existed, except along somebody's line 
fence. 

The king-bird was still on the wing, haughtv as ever, 
and a few gophers whistled. All else of the prairie had 
vanished as if it had all been dreamed. The pigeons, 
the plover, the chickens, the vultures, the cranes, the 
wolves — all gone — all gone ! 

At last, along a railway track that gashed the hill and 
spewed gravel along the bottom of what had been a 
beautiful green dip in the plain, the two friends came 
upon a slip of prairie sod. 



Conclusion 423 

Lincoln leaped from the carriage with a whoop of 
delight and flung himself into the grass. 

"Here it is! Here they are — the buffalo berries, 
the rose bushes, the rattlesnake weed, wild barley, plums 
— all of it." 

Carefully, minutely, the prairie boys studied the flowers 
and grasses of the sloping banks, as they recalled the 
days of cattle-herding, berrying, hazel-nutting, and all 
the other now vanished pleasures of boy life on the 
prairies, and on them both fell a sudden realization of 
the inexorable march of civilization. They shivered 
under the passing of the wind, as though it were the 
stream of time, bearing them swiftly away ever farther 
from their life on the flowering prairies. Then softly 
Ranee quoted : — 

" We'll meet them yet, they are not lost forever ; 
They lie somewhere, those splendid prairie lands. 
Far in the West, untouched of plough and harrow. 
Unmarked by man's all-desolating hands." 



A NEW EDITION 

ROSE OF DUTCHER'S COOLLY 

BY 

HAMLIN GARLAND 
Cloth. i2mo. $1.50 



WILLIAM DEAN HO WELLS 

" I cherish with a grateful sense of the high pleasure they have 
given me Mr. Garland's splendid achievements in objective 
fiction." 

THE CRITIC 

" Its realism is hearty, vivid, flesh and blood realism, which 
makes the book readable even to those who disapprove most 
conscientiously of many things in it." 

THE NEW AGE 

"It is, beyond all manner of doubt, one of the most powerful 
novels of recent years. It has created a sensation." 

KANSAS CITY JOURNAL 

"After the fashion of all rare vintages Mr. Garland seems to 
improve with age. No more evidence of this is needed than 
a perusal of his ' Rose of Butcher's Coolly.' One might sum 
up the many excellences of the entire story by saying that it 
is not unworthy of any American writer." 



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 
^ Fifth Avenue 

NEW YORK 



THE TRAIL OF THE GOLD SEEKERS. 

A RECORD OF TRAVEL IN PROSE AND l^ERSE. 

BY 

HAMLIN GARLAND, 

Author of "Rose of Diitcher^s Coolly^'' etc, 
12mo. Cloth. $1.50. 



Chicago Evening Post : It is safe to say that never again will 
the North witness such a furious rush of men as that which took 
place between August, 1897, and June, 1898. The wild places 
are rapidly being settled, and the last great march of pioneers 
has probably taken place in America. No one is likely to write 
a finer lyric of the (Klondike) trail than Hamlin Garland's record 
of travel in prose and verse. 

Philadelphia American : It is the one book on that subject 
that will survive all those that have been written. ... It is 
evident that, though Mr. Garland didn't bring any gold back 
with him, he brought something infinitely better, and it is all 
contained here in this handy little volume. 

Inter-Ocean : This volume deals in facts, and for this it is 
valuable, but to the general reader it is much more than that. 
It is a charmingly told story, abounding in incidents and descrip- 
tions, and never a dull page. 

Boston Saturday Evening Gazette : He gives some admira- 
ble and most vivid sketches of Western character, and seems to 
have come in contact with a rare number of originals whom he 
describes with rare art and humor. It is a most readable and 
entertaining book. 



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY, 

66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK.